Scientists have considered Ceres the smallest dwarf planet in the Solar System, but now, a new candidate came in – Asteroid Hygiea. The space rock is the fourth-largest space body in the Asteroid Belt, and astronomers just obtained high-resolution images of it. And it might qualify for the title of dwarf planet.
If that’s going to happen, then Asteroid Hygiea would become the smallest dwarf planet in the Solar System, dethroning Ceres.
Asteroids can take many forms since they don’t have enough gravitational force of their own to rotate and end up looking like spheres. But that’s not the case with Asteroid Hygiea that is round, something that suggests that it had or still has sufficient gravitation pull to rotate around its own axis.
Hygeia meets the conditions of a dwarf planet – it rotates around the Sun, is not a moon, it is round, and it did not interfere with the orbits of other space bodies.
Asteroid Hygiea might become the smallest dwarf planet in our Solar System
Pierre Vernazza of the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille in France, and the study’s leading author, focused on calculating the size of Asteroid Hygiea. He estimated that the potential dwarf planet has 267 miles in diameter, which makes it possess less than one-fifth the width of Pluto.
Up till now, Ceres was the smallest dwarf planet in our Solar System, but that might change soon if Asteroid Hygeia “graduates” from Asteroid to Planet.
“Thanks to these images, Hygiea may be reclassified as a dwarf planet, so far the smallest in the solar system. Thanks to the VLT and the new generation adaptive-optics instrument SPHERE, we are now imaging main-belt asteroids with unprecedented resolution, closing the gap between Earth-based and interplanetary mission observations,” explained Vernazza.
But before becoming the smallest dwarf planet in the Solar System, Asteroid Hygeia has to pass one final exam – the acceptance from the International Astronomical Union, which the same institute that retrograded Pluto to the statute of a dwarf planet.