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Dwarf Planets

Dwarf PlanetsOn August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the official scientific body for astronomical nomenclature, defined "Dwarf Planet" as a celestial body, within our Solar System, that:

  • Is in orbit around The Sun.
  • Has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape.
  • Has not "cleared the neighborhood" around its orbit.
  • Is not a satellite.

Additionally, on the same date, the IAU's stance on "Dwarf Planets" within our Solar System was formally adopted by its general assembly.

It differs from the definition of "planet" in that the "Dwarf Planet" has not cleared its "orbital neighborhood." Before the adoption of the 2006 resolution, there was no formally specified scientific definition of "Dwarf Planet." The category is distinguished from "planets" and "small solar system bodies."

Under the IAU's definition, our Solar System is considered to have three dwarf planets:

  • Ceres - (Previously classiifed an Asteroid and the smallest).
  • Pluto - (Previously classified as a planet).
  • Eris (Previously classified a TNO, trans-Neptunian object, the largest).

Many more objects could be added to this list once it has been determined whether they fulfill criteria.

Orbital Neighborhood - The phrase refers to an orbiting body (a planet or protoplanet) "sweeping out" its orbital region over time, by gravitationally interacting with smaller bodies nearby. Over many orbital cycles, a large body will tend to cause small bodies either to accrete with it, or to be disturbed to another orbit. As a consequence it does not then share its orbital region with other bodies of significant size, except for its own satellites, or other bodies governed by its own gravitational influence. This latter restriction excludes objects whose orbits may cross but which will never collide with each other due to orbital resonance, such as Jupiter and the Trojan asteroids, Earth and 3753 Cruithne or Neptune and the Plutinos.

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