Ceres Connection

This site serves as a starting point for students and teachers to learn more about how a minor planet is located and named and how to learn more about a specific minor planet. All minor planets named in the Ceres Connection program have been discovered by LINEAR, the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research program.

MIT Lincoln Laboratory has partnered with Society for Science & the Public to promote science education through the Ceres Connection program. This program names minor planets in honor of students in fifth through twelfth grades and their teachers. Students and teachers are selected through the following programs of the Science Education Department at Society for Science & the Public:

  • Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge
  • Intel Science Talent Search (STS)
  • Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF)

Honored Students and Teachers

Congratulations to the students and teachers who are honored with a minor planet named after them through the Ceres Connection program.

For more detailed information on the above-named minor planets, a search by IAU number, name, or designation is available at the JPL Small-Body Database Browser web page.

Locating Minor Planets

To locate a specific minor planet in the night sky, an observer must know where to look. The coordinate system used to define locations in space is a spherical system centered on the Earth. A specific location is defined in terms of right ascension (R.A.) and declination (Dec.), where R.A. and Dec. are analogous to longitude and latitude with the exception of being fixed independent of the Earth's daily rotation. In addition to knowing where to look, it is often helpful to know how bright the object is expected to be. This is known as the visual magnitude (Vm) of the object. The larger the visual magnitude, the fainter the object. The unaided human eye in ideal conditions can only detect objects as faint as Vm = 6. The LINEAR telescopes typically detect images as faint as Vm = 19.5 on a clear night.

The Minor Planet Center’s Minor Planet Ephemeris Service allows observers to enter the name or number of a minor planet, and receive a list of (R.A., Dec.) numbers, predicted visual magnitude for the next 30 days and other data describing the minor planet’s orbit. Users choosing "return ephemerides" will also receive the name, number and discoverer of the minor planet, when and where it was discovered, and when it was last observed. Observers with computer-assisted telescopes can enter the (R.A., Dec.) information from this site in a style appropriate to their specific software.

Naming Minor Planets

Fewer than 15,000 people share the honor of having a minor planet named after them. The process of naming a minor planet follows a well-defined sequence of events.  After a minor planet receives a permanent designation or number, the discoverer of the minor planet has 10 years to propose a name for it. Once the name is proposed, the 13-member, international Committee for Small-Body Nomenclature must judge and approve the name. Contrary to some media reports, it is not possible to buy a minor planet.

Number of Minor Planets

How many minor planets have been discovered? As of January 2008, orbits have been determined for 393,298 minor planets. Of these, 171,475 have been numbered, and 14,226 have been named. The majority of these planets are main-belt asteroids residing between Mars and Jupiter. However 5,038 are near-Earth asteroids.

  • The plot of the inner solar system shows the location of all currently known main-belt asteroids, near-Earth asteroids, comets, and other classes of minor planets.

 

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