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So What is a “Dwarf Planet”?

We mean—officially. Our source is NASA (here) and NASA cites the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to frame this definition:

A “dwarf planet” is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, (c) has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a satellite.

We like some aspects of this definition (sufficient mass, self gravity), ruefully acknowledge others (has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit) and glad (if sales sustain us) not to be a mere satellite.

The picture shown is that Ceres, also courtesy of NASA. We show it by way of accounting for the somewhat deficient and fuzzy image of our own planet on the header of this blog. As you can see, even major institutions like NASA and IAU have trouble bringing things so small into proper focus.

We expect to revisit this subject again until it’s exhausted—but the subject, like other matters celestial, may turn out to be inexhaustible. For now, to drop some names, there are five such officially recognized: Eris (informally Xena), Pluto (he’s famous), MakeMake (we rather like that name), Haumea (aka “Santa”), and Ceres (shown).

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One Response

  1. OK, so this is the nerds’ corner, right? Like there’s the science fiction section over there, there might some day be a children’s section on that side over there and this here, well, this would be the nerds’ section. Am I following?

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