Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Ceres and Vesta

Both are the names of asteroids in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres is the largest and has the most mass but Vesta is the brightest (and second massive). These are the only two asteroids that can be seen with the naked eye from Earth (Ceres only under exceptional viewing conditions).

Initially Ceres was thought to be the missing planet, but after discovering it was much smaller than any other planet it was decided that instead it was an 'asteroid' - meaning starlike (Latin astra - star). However, though this definition is wrong (planetoid would be better as they do not resemble stars at all) it has stuck. When Vesta was discovered in 1807 it too was called an asteroid.

Currently the IAU are drafting a definition of Planets and Plutons (orbits lasting over 200 years). Under these definitions Ceres is a planet (as it has enough gravity to assume an almost round - oblate spheroid (same as Earth) shape and orbits a star). For a celestial object that has been an asteroid for over 200 years this is quite a development.

Ceres (said Seer-rez) was the Roman goddess of plants and motherly love. She was connected with the Greek goddess Demeter. It is from Ceres that we get the word cereal. Ceres itself comes from ker meaning 'to grow' which is also the root of the words 'create' and 'increase'.

Vesta was the Roman goddess of hearth, home and family - connected with the Greek goddess Hestia. Her priestesses were called the Vestal Virgins/Vestales. They had to observe absolute chastity for 30 years and ensure that the public hearth sacred to Vesta never went out.

My thoughts? Ceres is possibly a planet name that could be used without sounding stupid. If not there is always Sarah, Cerys and Ceri.