Dwarf Planets of Our Solar System

Colossal Discoveries on Mini Worlds

By Google Arts & Culture

Mackenzie White

Pluto, From the collection of: NASA
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Ceres, From the collection of: NASA
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Eris, From the collection of: NASA
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Though they orbit the Sun, dwarf planets differ from classical planets in their characteristically small size and the nature of the objects in their orbit. Learn more about different kinds of planets here.

Dwarf Planet Ceres, Artist Impression (2014-01-22) by ESA/ATG medialabNASA

These miniature worlds share their orbit with objects of similar size while planets like Earth have “cleared their neighborhood” of comparable bodies.

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MakemakeNASA

Counts of the possible number of dwarf planets in our solar system vary, but five have solidified their standing as confirmed: Ceres, Pluto, Makemake, Haumea, and Eris.

Presenting peculiar features and unexpected geology, these dwarf planets provide a unique scientific fingerprint that has helped scientists understand the origins of the solar system.

Dawn Artist Concept Realistic Ceres (2016-09-27) by NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDANASA

Ceres is the only dwarf planet located in the inner solar system and was the first to receive a visit from a spacecraft (NASA’s Dawn in 2015). 

Ceres Rotation and Occator Crater (2015-12-09) by NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDANASA

Geologically active with large craters, Ceres stands out as the only dwarf planet to harbor water and an associated potential habitat for microbial life.

Interior Structure of Ceres Artist Concept (2016-08-03) by NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDANASA

Learn about the layered interior of Ceres here.

Occator Perspective View (2017-12-12) by NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDANASA

Some of Ceres’ most notable surface features are its “cold traps”— cratered regions always in shadow, forever hidden from the Sun.

Like similar areas on the Moon and Mercury, the absence of direct sunlight in these craters could result in the accumulation of water ice over long periods.

The Rich Color Variations of Pluto (2015-09-24) by NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research InstituteNASA

Perhaps the only dwarf planet more famous than Ceres is Pluto—the ninth-largest object orbiting the Sun. 

Made of ice and rock, Pluto is smaller than our Moon but boasts mountains as high as the Rockies and a heart-shaped ice sheet nearly 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) across. Explore NASA's gallery of Pluto images here.

Soaring over Pluto (2017-07-14) by NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Lunar and Planetary InstituteNASA

Though it may have lost its status as the ninth planet in our solar system, Pluto remains an exciting place for dazzling new discoveries in planetary science.

Hubble Witnesses Massive Comet-Like Object Pollute Atmosphere of a White Dwarf (2017-12-08)NASA

The three farthest dwarf planets from Earth— Makemake, Haumea, and Eris—are located in the Kuiper Belt (the region outside the orbit of Neptune) alongside Pluto. 

Eris and Dysnomia Artist Concept (2011-04-11) by NASA/JPL-CaltechNASA

While they may live in the same doughnut-shaped belt of icy objects, these worlds are one-of-a-kind. Learn more about Kuiper Belt objects here.

Makemake, From the collection of: NASA
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Haumea, From the collection of: NASA
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Eris, From the collection of: NASA
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From Makemake’s highly reflective surface to Haumea’s fast spin to Eris’ freezing and thawing atmosphere, these planetary bodies are some of the most striking objects in our solar system.

Ceres Southern Hemisphere in Survey (2015-06-10) by NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDANASA

While these distant dwarf planets largely remain shrouded in mystery, one thing is clear: for what they lack in size, they make up for in captivating complexity.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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