|Part of the Solar System|
The asteroid belt encompasses a region roughly between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It is thought that gravitational perturbations from Jupiter prevented planetary formation in this region. Instead, numerous small bodies known as asteroids (Greek for “star-like”) occupy this region.
In 1801, Ceres became the first body of the asteroid belt to be discovered. It was initially classified as a planet, but this status was cut short in the 1850’s after the discovery of over a dozen “planets” in the same orbital region. This prompted the reclassification of all of these bodies to asteroids.
Ceres is the most massive asteroid, containing approximately a third of the asteroid belt’s mass. However, it never achieves an apparent magnitude brighter than 6.7, beyond the typical naked eye limit. However, 4 Vesta—the third largest asteroid—can reach a brightness exceeding that of Uranus. Contrary to popular belief, the belt is sparsely populated and most asteroids are very small. From essentially any given asteroid, an observer would typically require optical aid to see another (except in the case of a close encounter).