A Visual Introduction to the Dwarf Planets in our Solar System
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A Visual Introduction to the Dwarf Planets in our Solar System

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A Visual Introduction to the Dwarf Planets of our Solar SystemA Visual Introduction to the Dwarf Planets of our Solar System

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Pluto and the Introduction of Dwarf Planets

Since its discovery in 1930, Pluto has been a bit of a puzzle.

For starters, not only is Pluto smaller than any other planet in the solar system, but it’s also smaller than Earth’s moon. It also has an extremely low gravitational pull at only 0.07 times the mass of the objects in its orbit, which is just a fraction of the Moon’s own strength.

At the same time, Pluto’s surface resembles that of terrestrial planets such as Mars, Venus or the Earth, yet its nearest neighbors are the gaseous Jovian planets such as Uranus or Neptune. In fact, Pluto’s orbit is so erratic that it led many scientists to initially believe that it originated elsewhere in space and the Sun’s gravity pulled it in.

These qualities have challenged the scientific view of Pluto’s status as a planet for years. It wasn’t until the discovery of Eris in 2005, one of many increasingly identified trans-Neptunian objects (objects beyond the planet Neptune), that the International Astronomical Union (IAU) defined criteria for classifying planets.

With Eris and other trans-Neptunian objects sharing similar characteristics with Pluto, the definition for dwarf planets was created, and Pluto got downgraded in 2006.

So what are dwarf planets, how do they differ from “true” planets and what are their characteristics?

The History of Dwarf Planets

A dwarf planet is a celestial body that almost meets the definition of a “true” planet. According to the IAU, which sets definitions for planetary science, a planet must:

  1. Orbit the Sun.
  2. Have enough mass to achieve hydrostatic equilibrium and assume a nearly round shape.
  3. Dominate its orbit and not share it with other objects.

Dwarf planets, along with not being moons or satellites, fail to clear the neighborhoods around their orbits. This is the primary reason why Pluto lost its status: because it shares part of its orbit with the Kuiper belt, a dense region of icy space bodies.

Based on this definition, the IAU has recognized five dwarf planets: Pluto, Eris, Makemake, Haumea, and Ceres. There are four more planetary objects*, namely Orcus, Sedna, Gonggong and Quaoar, that the majority of the scientific community recognize as dwarf planets.

Six more could be recognized in the coming years, and as many as 200 or more are hypothesized to exist in the Outer Solar System in the aforementioned Kuiper belt.

Ceres is the earliest known and smallest of the current category of dwarf planets. Previously classified as an asteroid in 1801, it was confirmed to be a dwarf planet in 2006. Ceres lies between Mars and Jupiter in the asteroid belt, and it is the only dwarf planet that orbits closest to Earth.

Here is a brief introduction to the most recognized dwarf planets:

NameRegion of the
Solar System
Orbital period
(in years)
Mean orbital
speed (km/s)
Diameter
(km)
Diameter
relative to
the Moon
Moons
OrcusKuiper belt (plutino)2474.7591026%1
CeresAsteroid belt4.617.994027%0
PlutoKuiper belt (plutino)2484.74237768%5
HaumeaKuiper belt (12:7)2854.531560≈ 45%2
QuaoarKuiper belt (cubewano)2894.51111032%1
MakemakeKuiper belt (cubewano)3064.41143041%1
GonggongScattered disc (10:3)5543.63123035%1
ErisScattered disc5583.62232667%1
SednaDetached~11,400~1.399529%N/A

Interesting Facts about Dwarf Planets

Here are a few interesting facts about the dwarf planets discovered in our solar system:

Ceres loses 6kg of its mass in steam every second

The Herschel Space Telescope observed plumes of water vapor shooting up from Ceres’ surface; this was the first definitive observation of water vapor in the asteroid belt. This happens when portions of Ceres’ icy surface warm up and turn into steam.

A day on Haumea lasts 3.9 hours

Haumea has a unique appearance due to its rotation, which is so rapid that it compresses the planet into an egg-like shape. Its rotational speed and collisional origin also make Haumea one of the densest dwarf planets discovered to date.

Makemake was named three years after its discovery in 2005

Makemake’s discovery close to Easter influenced both its name and nickname. Before being named after the creator of humanity and god of fertility in the mythos of the Rapa Nui (the native people of Easter Island), Makemake was nicknamed “Easter bunny” by its discoverer Mike Brown.

Eris was once considered for the position of the 10th planet

Eris is the most massive dwarf planet in the solar system, exceeding Pluto’s mass by 28%. As such, it was a serious contender to become the tenth planet but failed to meet the criteria set out by the IAU.

Pluto is one-third ice

The planet’s composition makes up two-thirds rock and one-third ice, mostly a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide. One day on Pluto is 153.6 hours, approximately 6.4 Earth days, making it one of the slowest rotating dwarf planets.

Exploratory Missions and New Planets on the Horizon

With newer technology rapidly available to the scientific community and new exploratory missions getting more data and information about trans-Neptunian objects, our understanding of dwarf planets will increase.

Nestled in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the asteroid Hygiea remains a controversy. Hygiea is the fourth largest object in the asteroid belt behind Ceres, Vesta, and Pallas and ticks all the boxes necessary to be classified as a dwarf planet.

So what’s holding back Hygiea’s confirmation as a dwarf planet? The criterion for being massive enough to form a spherical shape is in contention; it remains unclear if its roundness results from collision/impact disruption or its mass/gravity.

Along with Hygiea, other exciting dwarf planets could be soon discovered. Here is a quick rundown of some serious contenders:

Potential Dwarf Planets Under Investigation

120347 Salacia

Discovered in 2004, it is a trans-Neptunian object in the Kuiper belt, approximately 850 kilometers in diameter. As of 2018, it is located about 44.8 astronomical units from the Sun. Salacia’s status is in contention because its planetary density is arguable. It is uncertain if it can exist in hydrostatic equilibrium.

(307261) 2002 MS4

With an estimated diameter of 934±47 kilometers, 2002 MS4 is comparable in size to Ceres. Researchers need more data to determine whether 2002 MS4 is a dwarf planet or not.

(55565) 2002 AW197

Discovered at the Palomar Observatory in 2002, it has a rotation period of 8.8 hours, a moderately red color (similar to Quaoar) and no apparent planetary geology. Its low albedo has made it difficult to determine whether or not it is a dwarf planet.

174567 Varda

Varda takes its name after the queen of the Valar, creator of the stars, one of the most powerful servants of almighty Eru Iluvatar in J. R. R. Tolkien’s fictional mythology. Varda’s status as a dwarf planet is uncertain because its size and albedo suggest it might not be a fully solid body.

(532037) 2013 FY27

This space object has a surface diameter of about 740 kilometers. It orbits the Sun once every 449 years. Researchers need more data on the planet’s mass and density to determine if it is a dwarf planet or not.

(208996) 2003 AZ84

It is approximately 940 kilometers across its longest axis, as it has an elongated shape. This shape is presumably due to its rapid rotation rate of 6.71 hours, similar to that of other dwarf planets like Haumea. Like Varda, it remains unknown if this object has compressed into a fully solid body and thus remains contentious amongst astronomers regarding its planetary status.

*Note: The IAU officially recognizes five dwarf planets. We include four additional dwarf planets widely acknowledged by members of the scientific community, especially amongst leading planetary researchers like Gonzalo Tancredi, Michael Brown, and William Grundy. There are many more potential dwarf planets not listed here that remain under investigation.

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Misc

Visualized: The Most Googled Countries

This series of visualizations uses Google trends search data to show the most googled countries around the world, from 2004 to 2022.

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Visualized: The Most Googled Countries, Worldwide

View a higher resolution version of this network diagram.

Analyzing societal trends can teach us a lot about a population’s cultural fabric.

And since Google makes up more than 90% of internet searches outside of the Great Firewall, studying its usage is one of the best resources for modern social research.

This series of visualizations by Anders Sundell uses Google Trends search data to show the most googled countries around the world, from 2004 to 2022. These graphics provide thought-provoking insight into different cultural similarities and geopolitical dynamics.

A Quick Note on Methodology

The visualization above shows the most googled country in each nation around the world over the last couple of decades.

For example, the arrow pointing from Canada to the United States means that, between 2004 and 2022, people in Canada had more searches about the U.S. than any other country globally.

And since this study only looked at interest in other countries, queries of countries searching for themselves were not included in the data.

Finally, each country’s circle is scaled relative to its search interest, meaning the bigger the circle, the more countries pointing to it (and searching for it).

The Top Googled Countries Overall

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the U.S. is the most googled country on the list, ranking first place in 45 of the 190 countries included in the dataset.

CountryTop Googled Country
🇦🇩​ Andorra🇪🇸​ Spain
🇦🇪​ The United Arab Emirates 🇮🇳 India
🇦🇫​ Afghanistan🇮🇷 Iran
🇦🇬 Antigua and Barbuda🇺🇸 The United States
🇦🇱 Albania🇮🇹 Italy
🇦🇲 Armenia🇷🇺 Russia
🇦🇴 Angola🇧🇷 Brazil
🇦🇷 Argentina🇪🇸​ Spain
🇦🇹 Austria🇩🇪 Germany
🇦🇺 Australia🇺🇸 The United States
🇦🇿 Azerbaijan🇹🇷 Turkey
🏴󠁢󠁡󠁢󠁩󠁨󠁿 Bosnia and Herzegovina🇷🇴 Romania
🇧🇧 Barbados🇬🇧 United Kingdom
🇧🇩 Bangladesh🇮🇳 India
🇧🇪 Belgium🇫🇷 France
🇧🇫 Burkina Faso🇫🇷 France
🇧🇬 Bulgaria🇷🇺 Russia
🇧🇭 Bahrain🇮🇳 India
🇧🇮 Burundi🇫🇷 France
🇧🇯 Benin🇫🇷 France
🇧🇳 Brunei🇲🇾 Malaysia
🇧🇴 Bolivia🇦🇷 Argentina
🇧🇷 Brazil🇺🇸 The United States
🇧🇸 The Bahamas 🇺🇸 The United States
🇧🇹 Bhutan🇮🇳 India
🇧🇼 Botswana🇿🇦 South Africa
🇧🇾 Belarus🇷🇺 Russia
🇧🇿 Belize🇺🇸 The United States
🇨🇦 Canada🇺🇸 The United States
🇨🇩 The Democratic Republic of Congo🇫🇷 France
🇨🇫 The Central African Republic🇫🇷 France
🇨🇬 The Congo🇨🇩 The Democratic Republic of Congo
🇨🇭 Switzerland🇩🇪 Germany
🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire🇫🇷 France
🇨🇱 Chile🇦🇷 Argentina
🇨🇲 Cameroon🇫🇷 France
🇨🇳 China🇺🇸 The United States
🇨🇴 Colombia🇺🇸 The United States
🇨🇷 Costa Rica 🇺🇸 The United States
🇨🇺 Cuba🇪🇸​ Spain
🇨🇻 Cabo Verde🇺🇸 The United States
🇨🇾 Cyprus🇬🇧 United Kingdom
🇨🇿 Czechia🇩🇪 Germany
🇩🇪 Germany🇺🇸 The United States
🇩🇯 Djibouti🇫🇷 France
🇩🇰 Denmark🇩🇪 Germany
🇩🇲 Dominica🇺🇸 The United States
🇩🇴 The Dominican Republic🇺🇸 The United States
🇩🇿 Algeria🇫🇷 France
🇪🇨 Ecuador🇺🇸 The United States
🇪🇪 Estonia🇷🇺 Russia
🇪🇬 Egypt🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia
🇪🇷 Eritrea🇪🇹 Ethiopia
🇪🇸 Spain🇺🇸 The United States
🇪🇹 Ethiopia🇺🇸 The United States
🇫🇮 Finland🇸🇪 Sweden
🇫🇯 Fiji🇦🇺 Australia
🇫🇲 Micronesia🇺🇸 The United States
🇫🇷 France🇺🇸 The United States
🇬🇦 Gabon🇫🇷 France
🇬🇧 United Kingdom🇺🇸 The United States
🇬🇩 Grenada🇺🇸 The United States
🇬🇪 Georgia🇷🇺 Russia
🇬🇭 Ghana🇺🇸 The United States
🇬🇲 Gambia🇬🇧 United Kingdom
🇬🇳 Guinea🇫🇷 France
🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea🇪🇸​ Spain
🇬🇷 Greece🇬🇧 United Kingdom
🇬🇹 Guatemala🇸🇻 El Salvador
🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau🇵🇹 Portugal
🇬🇾 Guyana🇮🇳 India
🇭🇳 Honduras🇺🇸 The United States
🇭🇷 Croatia🇩🇪 Germany
🇭🇹 Haiti 🇺🇸 The United States
🇭🇺 Hungary🇺🇸 The United States
🇮🇩 Indonesia🇯🇵 Japan
🇮🇪 Ireland🇬🇧 United Kingdom
🇮🇱 Israel🇺🇸 The United States
🇮🇳 India🇺🇸 The United States
🇮🇶 Iraq🇹🇷 Turkey
🇮🇷 Iran 🇹🇷 Turkey
🇮🇸 Iceland🇬🇧 United Kingdom
🇮🇹 Italy🇺🇸 The United States
🇯🇲 Jamaica🇺🇸 The United States
🇯🇴 Jordan🇪🇬 Egypt
🇯🇵 Japan🇺🇸 The United States
🇰🇪 Kenya🇺🇸 The United States
🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan🇷🇺 Russia
🇰🇭 Cambodia🇹🇭 Thailand
🇰🇮 Kiribati🇫🇯 Fiji
🇰🇲 Comoros🇫🇷 France
🇰🇳 Saint Kitts and Nevis🇺🇸 The United States
🇰🇵 North Korea🇺🇸 The United States
🇰🇷 South Korea🇯🇵 Japan
🇰🇼 Kuwait🇮🇳 India
🇰🇿 Kazakhstan🇷🇺 Russia
🇱🇦 Laos🇹🇭 Thailand
🇱🇧 Lebanon🇸🇾 Syria
🇱🇨 Saint Lucia🇬🇧 United Kingdom
🇱🇮 Liechtenstein🇨🇭 Switzerland
🇱🇰 Sri Lanka🇮🇳 India
🇱🇷 Liberia🇺🇸 The United States
🇱🇸 Lesotho🇿🇦 South Africa
🇱🇹 Lithuania🇷🇺 Russia
🇱🇺 Luxembourg🇫🇷 France
🇱🇻 Latvia🇷🇺 Russia
🇱🇾 Libya🇪🇬 Egypt
🇲🇦 Morocco🇫🇷 France
🇲🇨 Monaco🇫🇷 France
🇲🇩 Moldova 🇷🇺 Russia
🇲🇪 Montenegro🇷🇸 Serbia
🇲🇬​ Madagascar🇫🇷 France
🇲🇰 Republic of North Macedonia🇷🇸 Serbia
🇲🇱 Mali🇫🇷 France
🇲🇲 Myanmar🇯🇵 Japan
🇲🇳 Mongolia🇯🇵 Japan
🇲🇷 Mauritania🇫🇷 France
🇲🇹 Malta🇬🇧 United Kingdom
🇲🇺 Mauritius🇮🇳 India
🇲🇻 Maldives🇮🇳 India
🇲🇼 Malawi🇿🇦 South Africa
🇲🇽 Mexico🇺🇸 The United States
🇲🇾 Malaysia🇯🇵 Japan
🇲🇿 Mozambique🇧🇷 Brazil
🇳🇪 The Niger🇫🇷 France
🇳🇬 Nigeria🇺🇸 The United States
🇳🇮 Nicaragua🇺🇸 The United States
🇳🇱 The Netherlands🇩🇪 Germany
🇳🇴 Norway🇸🇪 Sweden
🇳🇵 Nepal🇮🇳 India
🇳🇿 New Zealand🇦🇺 Australia
🇴🇲 Oman🇮🇳 India
🇵🇦 Panama🇺🇸 The United States
🇵🇪 Peru🇪🇸​ Spain
🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea🇦🇺 Australia
🇵🇭 The Philippines🇯🇵 Japan
🇵🇰 Pakistan🇮🇳 India
🇵🇱 Poland🇩🇪 Germany
🇵🇸 Palestine🇮🇱 Israel
🇵🇹 Portugal🇧🇷 Brazil
🇵🇾 Paraguay🇦🇷 Argentina
🇶🇦 Qatar🇮🇳 India
🇷🇴 Romania🇮🇹 Italy
🇷🇸 Serbia🇽🇰 Kosovo
🇷🇺 Russia🇺🇸 The United States
🇷🇼 Rwanda🇺🇬 Uganda
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia🇪🇬 Egypt
🇸🇧 Solomon Islands🇦🇺 Australia
🇸🇨 Seychelles🇮🇳 India
🇸🇩 Sudan 🇪🇬 Egypt
🇸🇪 Sweden🇺🇸 The United States
🇸🇬 Singapore🇯🇵 Japan
🇸🇮 Slovenia🇭🇷 Croatia
🇸🇰 Slovakia🇨🇿 Czechia
🇸🇱 Sierra Leone🇬🇳 Guinea
🇸🇲 San Marino 🇮🇹 Italy
🇸🇳 Senegal🇫🇷 France
🇸🇴 Somalia🇮🇳 India
🇸🇷 Suriname🇳🇱 The Netherlands
🇸🇸 South Sudan🇺🇸 The United States
🇸🇹 Sao Tome and Principe🇵🇹 Portugal
🇸🇻 El Salvador🇺🇸 The United States
🇸🇾 Syria🇱🇧 Lebanon
🇸🇿 Eswatini🇿🇦 South Africa
🇹🇩 Chad🇺🇸 The United States
🇹🇬 Togo🇫🇷 France
🇹🇭 Thailand🇯🇵 Japan
🇹🇯 Tajikistan🇷🇺 Russia
🇹🇱 Timor-Leste🇸🇬 Singapore
🇹🇲 Turkmenistan🇷🇺 Russia
🇹🇳 Tunisia🇫🇷 France
🇹🇴 Tonga🇳🇿 New Zealand
🇹🇷 Turkey🇺🇸 The United States
🇹🇹 Trinidad and Tobago🇺🇸 The United States
🇹🇼 Taiwan🇯🇵 Japan
🇹🇿 Tanzania🇰🇪 Kenya
🇺🇦 Ukraine🇷🇺 Russia
🇺🇬 Uganda🇺🇸 The United States
🇺🇸 The United States🇲🇽 Mexico
🇺🇾 Uruguay🇦🇷 Argentina
🇺🇿 Uzbekistan🇷🇺 Russia
🇻🇨 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines🇧🇧 Barbados
🇻🇪 Venezuela 🇨🇴 Colombia
🇻🇳 Vietnam🇯🇵 Japan
🇻🇺 Vanuatu🇦🇺 Australia
🇽🇰 Kosovo🇦🇱 Albania
🇾🇪 Yemen🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia
🇿🇦 South Africa🇬🇧 United Kingdom
🇿🇲 Zambia🇿🇦 South Africa
🇿🇼 Zimbabwe🇿🇦 South Africa

While it’s the top googled country in neighboring places like Canada and Mexico, it’s also number one in countries much farther away like Nigeria, Sweden, and Australia.

The U.S. is currently the world’s largest economy by nominal GDP, and one of the biggest cultural influences globally. However, it’s worth noting that China, the world’s second-largest economy and the most populated, had very little search interest in comparison, at least based on Google Trends data.

Zooming into Specific Regions

In addition to the network map highlighting the overall top googled countries, Sundell created a series of videos breaking down the data monthly, by regions. Here are the videos for the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

The United States

Since 2004, there have been a high number of searches for Canada, Mexico and India in America.

The searches for Mexico seem to be concentrated in the Western U.S., which is also where a large portion of the country’s Hispanic population lives. In contrast, searches for India seem to come mostly from the eastern side of the country.

Europe

The U.S. is by the far the most commonly googled country across Europe, ranking number one consistently over the last two decades.

However, Russia stole the limelight in 2014, the year that they invaded and ultimately annexed Crimea.

Asia

In the early 2000s, the U.S. held the top googled spot in Asia, but over time, relative searches for the U.S. go down. India stole the top spot to become the most googled country in Asia for a majority of the 2010s.

One anomaly occurred when Japan briefly took the top spot in March 2011, which is when a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit the northern coast of Japan, causing a devastating tsunami.

What will future search results reveal about the global landscape? Were any of the results surprising?

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Politics

Which Countries Trust Their Government, and Which Ones Don’t?

There is a clear correlation between trust in government and trust in public institutions, but a few countries buck the trend.

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Which Countries Trust Their Government, and Which Ones Don’t?

In many countries around the world, vast portions of the population do not trust their own government.

Lack of faith in government and politics is nothing new, but in times of uncertainty, that lack of trust can coalesce into movements that challenge the authority of ruling parties and even threaten the stability of nations.

This visualization uses data from the Ipsos Global Trustworthiness Monitor to look at how much various populations trust their government and public institutions.

Tracking Trust in Government

Since the beginning of the pandemic, global trust in government has improved by eight percentage points, but that is only a small improvement on an otherwise low score.

At the country level, feelings towards government can vary widely. India, Germany, Netherlands, and Malaysia had the highest government trust levels.

Many of the countries with the lowest levels of trust were located in Latin America. This makes sense, as trust in politicians in this region is almost non-existent. For example, in Colombia, only 4% of the population consider politicians trustworthy. In Argentina, that figure falls to just 3%.

Trust in Public Institutions

Broadly speaking, people trust their public services more than the governments in charge of managing and funding them. This makes sense as civil servants fare much better than politicians and government ministers in trustworthiness.

chart showing global trust in professions. Politicians and government ministers rank the lowest.

As our main chart demonstrates, there is a correlation between faith in government and trust in public institutions. There are clear “high trust” and “low trust” groupings in the countries included in the polling, but there is also a third group that stands out—the countries that have high trust in public institutions, but not in their government. Leading this group is Japan, which has a stark difference in trust between public services and politicians. There are many factors that explain this difference, such as values, corruption levels, and the reliability of public services in various countries.

While trust scores for government improved slightly during the pandemic, trust in public institutions stayed nearly the same.

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