According to the International Astronomical Union (IAU), a minor planet is an astronomical object in direct orbit around the Sun that is exclusively classified as neither a planet nor a comet.Before 2006, the IAU officially used the term minor planet, but that year's meeting reclassified minor planets and comets into dwarf planets and small Solar System bodies (SSSBs).
Minor planets include asteroids (near-Earth objects, Mars-crossers, main-belt asteroids and Jupiter trojans), as well as distant minor planets (centaurs and trans-Neptunian objects), most of which reside in the Kuiper belt and the scattered disc. As of May 2022 [update] , there are 1,131,201 known objects, divided into 611,678 numbered (secured discoveries) and 519,523 unnumbered minor planets, with only five of those officially recognized as a dwarf planet.
The first minor planet to be discovered was Ceres in 1801. The term minor planet has been used since the 19th century to describe these objects.The term planetoid has also been used, especially for larger, planetary objects such as those the IAU has called dwarf planets since 2006. Historically, the terms asteroid, minor planet, and planetoid have been more or less synonymous. This terminology has become more complicated by the discovery of numerous minor planets beyond the orbit of Jupiter, especially trans-Neptunian objects that are generally not considered asteroids. A minor planet seen releasing gas may be dually classified as a comet.
Objects are called dwarf planets if their own gravity is sufficient to achieve hydrostatic equilibrium and form an ellipsoidal shape. All other minor planets and comets are called small Solar System bodies.The IAU stated that the term minor planet may still be used, but the term small Solar System body will be preferred. However, for purposes of numbering and naming, the traditional distinction between minor planet and comet is still used.
Hundreds of thousands of minor planets have been discovered within the Solar System and thousands more are discovered each month. The Minor Planet Center has documented over 213 million observations and 794,832 minor planets, of which 541,128 have orbits known well enough to be assigned permanent official numbers. As of 8 November 2021 [update] , the lowest-numbered unnamed minor planet is (4596) 1981 QB , and the highest-numbered named minor planet is 594913 ꞌAylóꞌchaxnim.Of these, 21,922 have official names.
There are various broad minor-planet populations:
All astronomical bodies in the Solar System need a distinct designation. The naming of minor planets runs through a three-step process. First, a provisional designation is given upon discovery—because the object still may turn out to be a false positive or become lost later on—called a provisionally designated minor planet. After the observation arc is accurate enough to predict its future location, a minor planet is formally designated and receives a number. It is then a numbered minor planet. Finally, in the third step, it may be named by its discoverers. However, only a small fraction of all minor planets have been named. The vast majority are either numbered or have still only a provisional designation. Example of the naming process:
A newly discovered minor planet is given a provisional designation. For example, the provisional designation 2002 AT4 consists of the year of discovery (2002) and an alphanumeric code indicating the half-month of discovery and the sequence within that half-month. Once an asteroid's orbit has been confirmed, it is given a number, and later may also be given a name (e.g. 433 Eros). The formal naming convention uses parentheses around the number, but dropping the parentheses is quite common. Informally, it is common to drop the number altogether or to drop it after the first mention when a name is repeated in running text.
Minor planets that have been given a number but not a name keep their provisional designation, e.g. (29075) 1950 DA. Because modern discovery techniques are finding vast numbers of new asteroids, they are increasingly being left unnamed. The earliest discovered to be left unnamed was for a long time (3360) 1981 VA, now 3360 Syrinx. In November 2006 its position as the lowest-numbered unnamed asteroid passed to (3708) 1974 FV1 (now 3708 Socus), and in May 2021 to (4596) 1981 QB . On rare occasions, a small object's provisional designation may become used as a name in itself: the then-unnamed (15760) 1992 QB1 gave its "name" to a group of objects that became known as classical Kuiper belt objects ("cubewanos") before it was finally named 15760 Albion in January 2018.
A few objects are cross-listed as both comets and asteroids, such as 4015 Wilson–Harrington, which is also listed as 107P/Wilson–Harrington.
Minor planets are awarded an official number once their orbits are confirmed. With the increasing rapidity of discovery, these are now six-figure numbers. The switch from five figures to six figures arrived with the publication of the Minor Planet Circular (MPC) of October 19, 2005, which saw the highest-numbered minor planet jump from 99947 to 118161.
The first few asteroids were named after figures from Greek and Roman mythology, but as such names started to dwindle the names of famous people, literary characters, discoverers' spouses, children, colleagues, and even television characters were used.
Commission 15of the International Astronomical Union is dedicated to the Physical Study of Comets & Minor Planets.
Archival data on the physical properties of comets and minor planets are found in the PDS Asteroid/Dust Archive.This includes standard asteroid physical characteristics such as the properties of binary systems, occultation timings and diameters, masses, densities, rotation periods, surface temperatures, albedoes, spin vectors, taxonomy, and absolute magnitudes and slopes. In addition, European Asteroid Research Node (E.A.R.N.), an association of asteroid research groups, maintains a Data Base of Physical and Dynamical Properties of Near Earth Asteroids.
Most detailed information is available from Category: Minor planets visited by spacecraft and Category: Comets visited by spacecraft.
Environmental characteristics have three aspects: space environment, surface environment and internal environment, including geological, optical, thermal and radiological environmental properties, etc., which are the basis for understanding the basic properties of minor planets, carrying out scientific research, and are also an important reference basis for designing the payload of exploration missions
Without the protection of an atmosphere and its own strong magnetic field, the minor planet's surface is directly exposed to the surrounding radiation environment. In the cosmic space where minor planets are located, the radiation on the surface of the planets can be divided into two categories according to their sources: one comes from the sun, including electromagnetic radiation from the sun, and ionizing radiation from the solar wind and solar energy particles; the other comes from the sun outside the solar system, that is, galactic cosmic rays, etc.
Usually during one rotation period of a minor planet, the albedo of a minor planet will change slightly due to its irregular shape and uneven distribution of material composition. This small change will be reflected in the periodic change of the planet's light curve, which can be observed by ground-based equipment, so as to obtain the planet's magnitude, rotation period, rotation axis orientation, shape, albedo distribution, and scattering properties. Generally speaking, the albedo of minor planets is usually low, and the overall statistical distribution is bimodal, corresponding to C-type (average 0.035) and S-type (average 0.15) minor planets.In the minor planet exploration mission, measuring the albedo and color changes of the planet surface is also the most basic method to directly know the difference in the material composition of the planet surface.
The geological environment on the surface of minor planets is similar to that of other unprotected celestial bodies, with the most widespread geomorphological feature present being impact craters: however, the fact that most minor planets are rubble pile structures, which are loose and porous, gives the impact action on the surface of minor planets its unique characteristics. On highly porous minor planets, small impact events produce spatter blankets similar to common impact events: whereas large impact events are dominated by compaction and spatter blankets are difficult to form, and the longer the planets receive such large impacts, the greater the overall density.In addition, statistical analysis of impact craters is an important means of obtaining information on the age of a planet surface. Although the Crater Size-Frequency Distribution (CSFD) method of dating commonly used on minor planet surfaces does not allow absolute ages to be obtained, it can be used to determine the relative ages of different geological bodies for comparison. In addition to impact, there are a variety of other rich geological effects on the surface of minor planets, such as mass wasting on slopes and impact crater walls, large-scale linear features associated with graben, and electrostatic transport of dust. By analysing the various geological processes on the surface of minor planets, it is possible to learn about the possible internal activity at this stage and some of the key evolutionary information about the long-term interaction with the external environment, which may lead to some indication of the nature of the parent body's origin. Many of the larger planets are often covered by a layer of soil (regolith) of unknown thickness. Compared to other atmosphere-free bodies in the solar system (e.g. the Moon), minor planets have weaker gravity fields and are less capable of retaining fine-grained material, resulting in a somewhat larger surface soil layer size. Soil layers are inevitably subject to intense space weathering that alters their physical and chemical properties due to direct exposure to the surrounding space environment. In silicate-rich soils, the outer layers of Fe are reduced to nano-phase Fe (np-Fe), which is the main product of space weathering. For some small planets, their surfaces are more exposed as boulders of varying sizes, up to 100 metres in diameter, due to their weaker gravitational pull. These boulders are of high scientific interest, as they may be either deeply buried material excavated by impact action or fragments of the planet's parent body that have survived. The rocks provide more direct and primitive information about the material inside the minor planet and the nature of its parent body than the soil layer, and the different colours and forms of the rocks indicate different sources of material on the surface of the minor planet or different evolutionary processes.
Usually in the interior of the planet, the convection of the conductive fluid will generate a large and strong magnetic field. However, the size of a minor planet is generally small and most of the minor planets have a "crushed stone pile" structure, and there is basically no "dynamo" structure inside, so it will not generate a self-generated dipole magnetic field like the Earth. But some minor planets do have magnetic fields, because——On the one hand, some minor planets have remanent Magnetism: if the parent body had a magnetic field or if the nearby planetary body has a strong magnetic field, the rocks on the parent body will be magnetised during the cooling process and the planet formed by the fission of the parent body will still retain remanence,which can also be detected in extraterrestrial meteorites from the minor planets; on the other hand, if the minor planets are composed of electrically conductive material and their internal conductivity is similar to that of carbon or iron-bearing meteorites, the interaction between the minor planets and the solar wind is likely to be unipolar induction, resulting in an external magnetic field for the minor planet. In addition, the magnetic fields of minor planets are not static; impact events, weathering in space and changes in the thermal environment can alter the existing magnetic fields of minor planets. At present, there are not many direct observations of minor planet magnetic fields, and the few existing planets detection projects generally carry magnetometers, with some targets such as Gaspra and Braille measured to have strong magnetic fields nearby, while others such as Lutetia have no magnetic field.
An asteroid is a minor planet of the inner Solar System. Sizes and shapes of asteroids vary significantly, ranging from 1-meter rocks to a dwarf planet almost 1000 km in diameter; they are rocky, metallic or icy bodies with no atmosphere.
The Kuiper belt is a circumstellar disc in the outer Solar System, extending from the orbit of Neptune at 30 astronomical units (AU) to approximately 50 AU from the Sun. It is similar to the asteroid belt, but is far larger—20 times as wide and 20–200 times as massive. Like the asteroid belt, it consists mainly of small bodies or remnants from when the Solar System formed. While many asteroids are composed primarily of rock and metal, most Kuiper belt objects are composed largely of frozen volatiles, such as methane, ammonia, and water. The Kuiper belt is home to most of the objects that astronomers generally accept as dwarf planets: Orcus, Pluto, Haumea, Quaoar, and Makemake. Some of the Solar System's moons, such as Neptune's Triton and Saturn's Phoebe, may have originated in the region.
A planet is a large, rounded astronomical body that is neither a star nor its remnant. The best available theory of planet formation is the nebular hypothesis, which posits that an interstellar cloud collapses out of a nebula to create a young protostar orbited by a protoplanetary disk. Planets grow in this disk by the gradual accumulation of material driven by gravity, a process called accretion. The Solar System has at least eight planets: the terrestrial planets Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, and the giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. These planets each rotate around an axis tilted with respect to its orbital pole. All of them possess an atmosphere, although that of Mercury is tenuous, and some share such features as ice caps, seasons, volcanism, hurricanes, tectonics, and even hydrology. Apart from Venus and Mars, the Solar System planets generate magnetic fields, and all except Venus and Mercury have natural satellites. The giant planets bear planetary rings, the most prominent being those of Saturn.
The Solar System is the gravitationally bound system of the Sun and the objects that orbit it. It formed 4.6 billion years ago from the gravitational collapse of a giant interstellar molecular cloud. The vast majority (99.86%) of the system's mass is in the Sun, with most of the remaining mass contained in the planet Jupiter. The four inner system planets—Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars—are terrestrial planets, being composed primarily of rock and metal. The four giant planets of the outer system are substantially larger and more massive than the terrestrials. The two largest, Jupiter and Saturn, are gas giants, being composed mainly of hydrogen and helium; the next two, Uranus and Neptune, are ice giants, being composed mostly of volatile substances with relatively high melting points compared with hydrogen and helium, such as water, ammonia, and methane. All eight planets have nearly circular orbits that lie near the plane of Earth's orbit, called the ecliptic.
A trans-Neptunian object (TNO), also written transneptunian object, is any minor planet in the Solar System that orbits the Sun at a greater average distance than Neptune, which has a semi-major axis of 30.1 astronomical units (au).
The Jupiter trojans, commonly called trojan asteroids or simply trojans, are a large group of asteroids that share the planet Jupiter's orbit around the Sun. Relative to Jupiter, each trojan librates around one of Jupiter's stable Lagrange points: either L4, existing 60° ahead of the planet in its orbit, or L5, 60° behind. Jupiter trojans are distributed in two elongated, curved regions around these Lagrangian points with an average semi-major axis of about 5.2 AU.
In planetary astronomy, a centaur is a small Solar System body with either a perihelion or a semi-major axis between those of the outer planets. Centaurs generally have unstable orbits because they cross or have crossed the orbits of one or more of the giant planets; almost all their orbits have dynamic lifetimes of only a few million years, but there is one known centaur, 514107 Kaʻepaokaʻawela, which may be in a stable orbit. Centaurs typically exhibit the characteristics of both asteroids and comets. They are named after the mythological centaurs that were a mixture of horse and human. Observational bias toward large objects makes determination of the total centaur population difficult. Estimates for the number of centaurs in the Solar System more than 1 km in diameter range from as low as 44,000 to more than 10,000,000.
Charles Thomas Kowal was an American astronomer known for his observations and discoveries in the Solar System. As a staff astronomer at Caltech's Mount Wilson and Palomar Mountain observatories between 1961 and 1984, he found the first of a new class of Solar System objects, the centaurs, discovered two moons of the planet Jupiter, and discovered or co-discovered a number of asteroids, comets and supernovae. He was awarded the James Craig Watson Medal for his contributions to astronomy in 1979.
Scott Sander Sheppard is an American astronomer and a discoverer of numerous moons, comets and minor planets in the outer Solar System.
The definition of planet, since the word was coined by the ancient Greeks, has included within its scope a wide range of celestial bodies. Greek astronomers employed the term ἀστέρες πλανῆται, 'wandering stars', for star-like objects which apparently moved over the sky. Over the millennia, the term has included a variety of different objects, from the Sun and the Moon to satellites and asteroids.
1998 WW31, is a non-resonant trans-Neptunian object and binary system from the Kuiper belt located in the outermost region of the Solar System, approximately 148 kilometers (92 miles) in diameter. It was first observed on 18 November 1998, by American astronomer Marc Buie and Robert Millis at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, United States. In December 2000, a minor-planet moon, designated S/2000 (1998 WW31) 1 with a diameter of 123 kilometers (76 miles), was discovered in its orbit. After Charon in 1978, it was the first of nearly 100 satellites since discovered in the outer Solar System.
The scattered disc (or scattered disk) is a distant circumstellar disc in the Solar System that is sparsely populated by icy small solar system bodies, which are a subset of the broader family of trans-Neptunian objects. The scattered-disc objects (SDOs) have orbital eccentricities ranging as high as 0.8, inclinations as high as 40°, and perihelia greater than 30 astronomical units (4.5×109 km; 2.8×109 mi). These extreme orbits are thought to be the result of gravitational "scattering" by the gas giants, and the objects continue to be subject to perturbation by the planet Neptune.
Neptune trojans are bodies that orbit the Sun near one of the stable Lagrangian points of Neptune, similar to the trojans of other planets. They therefore have approximately the same orbital period as Neptune and follow roughly the same orbital path. Twenty-eight Neptune trojans are currently known, of which 24 orbit near the Sun–Neptune L4 Lagrangian point 60° ahead of Neptune and four orbit near Neptune's L5 region 60° behind Neptune. The Neptune trojans are termed 'trojans' by analogy with the Jupiter trojans.
The Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System located at Haleakala Observatory, Hawaii, US, consists of astronomical cameras, telescopes and a computing facility that is surveying the sky for moving or variable objects on a continual basis, and also producing accurate astrometry and photometry of already-detected objects. In January 2019 the second Pan-STARRS data release was announced. At 1.6 petabytes, it is the largest volume of astronomical data ever released.
A small Solar System body (SSSB) is an object in the Solar System that is neither a planet, a dwarf planet, nor a natural satellite. The term was first defined in 2006 by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) as follows: "All other objects, except satellites, orbiting the Sun shall be referred to collectively as 'Small Solar System Bodies' ".
Discovery and exploration of the Solar System is observation, visitation, and increase in knowledge and understanding of Earth's "cosmic neighborhood". This includes the Sun, Earth and the Moon, the major planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, their satellites, as well as smaller bodies including comets, asteroids, and dust.
The Nicemodel is a scenario for the dynamical evolution of the Solar System. It is named for the location of the Côte d'Azur Observatory—where it was initially developed in 2005—in Nice, France. It proposes the migration of the giant planets from an initial compact configuration into their present positions, long after the dissipation of the initial protoplanetary disk. In this way, it differs from earlier models of the Solar System's formation. This planetary migration is used in dynamical simulations of the Solar System to explain historical events including the Late Heavy Bombardment of the inner Solar System, the formation of the Oort cloud, and the existence of populations of small Solar System bodies such as the Kuiper belt, the Neptune and Jupiter trojans, and the numerous resonant trans-Neptunian objects dominated by Neptune.