There’s been a lot of hubbub lately about habitable planets, but most of the ones we’ve identified so far with the help of the now-defunct Kepler telescope are a bit of a commute — like 20 light years or so. So we might put exoplanets on the back-burner for a little bit and turn our attention to closer dwarf planets. If we ever have to go on an epic journey to destroy an evil ring, this is where we’ll load up on grumbly, bearded warriors to accompany us. And now we have a specific one in mind: Ceres.
Ceres hangs out in the Mars-Jupiter asteroid belt and, while unique, has drawn some comparisons to Europa, Jupiter’s moon, and Enceladus, Saturn’s moon, because of its potential for facilitating life. It was the first discovered dwarf planet — in 1801 it was classified as a planet, but was then downgraded to an asteroid and then upgraded to a dwarf planet. It’s almost 600 miles across, rotates every nine or so hours, and its mass is a tiny fraction of Earth’s (0.015 percent). It’s actually so tiny that it has dual citizenship as a dwarf planet and an asteroid.