This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Minor planet" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (November 2019) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Euler diagram showing the types of bodies in the Solar System
Euler diagram showing the types of bodies in the Solar System

A minor planet is an astronomical object in direct orbit around the Sun (or more broadly, any star with a planetary system) that is neither a planet nor exclusively classified as a comet.[a] Before 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) officially used the term minor planet, but during that year's meeting it reclassified minor planets and comets into dwarf planets and small Solar System bodies (SSSBs).[1]

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 June 2021, there are 1,086,655 known objects, divided into 567,132 numbered (secured discoveries) and 519,523 unnumbered minor planets, with only five of those officially recognized as a dwarf planet.[2]

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.[3] The term planetoid has also been used, especially for larger, planetary objects such as those the IAU has called dwarf planets since 2006.[4][5] Historically, the terms asteroid, minor planet, and planetoid have been more or less synonymous.[4][6] 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.[6] 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.[1] The IAU stated that the term minor planet may still be used, but the term small Solar System body will be preferred.[7] However, for purposes of numbering and naming, the traditional distinction between minor planet and comet is still used.


Main article: List of minor-planet groups

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.[8][9] Of these, 21,922 have official names.[8] As of 8 November 2021, the lowest-numbered unnamed minor planet is (4596) 1981 QB,[10] and the highest-numbered named minor planet is 594913 ꞌAylóꞌchaxnim.[11]

There are various broad minor-planet populations:

Naming conventions

Main article: Astronomical naming conventions § Minor planets

Out of a total of more than 700,000 discovered minor planets, 66% have been numbered (green) and 34% remain unnumbered (red). Only a small fraction of 20,071 minor planets (3%) have been named (purple).[8][17]
Out of a total of more than 700,000 discovered minor planets, 66% have been numbered (green) and 34% remain unnumbered (red). Only a small fraction of 20,071 minor planets (3%) have been named (purple).[8][17]

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:

Provisional designation

Main article: Provisional designation in astronomy

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.[18]

A few objects are cross-listed as both comets and asteroids, such as 4015 Wilson–Harrington, which is also listed as 107P/Wilson–Harrington.


Main article: Minor planet designation

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.[8]


Main article: Name conflicts with minor planets

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.


The first asteroid to be given a non-mythological name was 20 Massalia, named after the Greek name for the city of Marseille.[19] The first to be given an entirely non-Classical name was 45 Eugenia, named after Empress Eugénie de Montijo, the wife of Napoleon III. For some time only female (or feminized) names were used; Alexander von Humboldt was the first man to have an asteroid named after him, but his name was feminized to 54 Alexandra. This unspoken tradition lasted until 334 Chicago was named; even then, female names showed up in the list for years after.


As the number of asteroids began to run into the hundreds, and eventually, in the thousands, discoverers began to give them increasingly frivolous names. The first hints of this were 482 Petrina and 483 Seppina, named after the discoverer's pet dogs. However, there was little controversy about this until 1971, upon the naming of 2309 Mr. Spock (the name of the discoverer's cat). Although the IAU subsequently banned pet names as sources,[20] eccentric asteroid names are still being proposed and accepted, such as 4321 Zero, 6042 Cheshirecat, 9007 James Bond, 13579 Allodd and 24680 Alleven, and 26858 Misterrogers.

Discoverer's name

A well-established rule is that, unlike comets, minor planets may not be named after their discoverer(s). One way to circumvent this rule has been for astronomers to exchange the courtesy of naming their discoveries after each other. An exception to this rule is 96747 Crespodasilva, which was named after its discoverer, Lucy d'Escoffier Crespo da Silva, because she died shortly after the discovery, at age 22.[21][22]


Names were adapted to various languages from the beginning. 1 Ceres, Ceres being its Anglo-Latin name, was actually named Cerere, the Italian form of the name. German, French, Arabic, and Hindi use forms similar to the English, whereas Russian uses a form, Tserera, similar to the Italian. In Greek, the name was translated to Δήμητρα (Demeter), the Greek equivalent of the Roman goddess Ceres. In the early years, before it started causing conflicts, asteroids named after Roman figures were generally translated in Greek; other examples are Ἥρα (Hera) for 3 Juno, Ἑστία (Hestia) for 4 Vesta, Χλωρίς (Chloris) for 8 Flora, and Πίστη (Pistis) for 37 Fides. In Chinese, the names are not given the Chinese forms of the deities they are named after, but rather typically have a syllable or two for the character of the deity or person, followed by 神 'god(dess)' or 女 'woman' if just one syllable, plus 星 'star/planet', so that most asteroid names are written with three Chinese characters. Thus Ceres is 穀神星 'grain goddess planet',[23] Pallas is 智神星 'wisdom goddess planet', etc.[citation needed]

Physical properties of comets and minor planets

Commission 15[24] of 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.[25] 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.[26]

Most detailed information is available from Category: Minor planets visited by spacecraft and Category: Comets visited by spacecraft.

See also


  1. ^ Objects (generally centaurs) that were originally discovered and classified as minor planets, but later discovered to be comets are listed both as minor planets and comets. Objects that are first discovered as comets are not dually classified.


  1. ^ a b Press release, IAU 2006 General Assembly: Result of the IAU Resolution votes, International Astronomical Union, August 24, 2006. Accessed May 5, 2008.
  2. ^ "Latest Published Data". Minor Planet Center. 1 June 2021. Retrieved 17 June 2021.
  3. ^ When did the asteroids become minor planets? Archived 2010-01-18 at WebCite, James L. Hilton, Astronomical Information Center, United States Naval Observatory. Accessed May 5, 2008.
  4. ^ a b Planet, asteroid, minor planet: A case study in astronomical nomenclature, David W. Hughes, Brian G. Marsden, Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage 10, #1 (2007), pp. 21–30. Bibcode:2007JAHH...10...21H
  5. ^ Mike Brown, 2012. How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming
  6. ^ a b c "Asteroid", MSN Encarta, Microsoft. Accessed May 5, 2008. Archived 2009-11-01.
  7. ^ Questions and Answers on Planets, additional information, news release IAU0603, IAU 2006 General Assembly: Result of the IAU Resolution votes, International Astronomical Union, August 24, 2006. Accessed May 8, 2008.
  8. ^ a b c d "Minor Planet Statistics – Orbits And Names". Minor Planet Center. 28 October 2018. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  9. ^ JPL. "How Many Solar System Bodies". JPL Solar System Dynamics. NASA. Retrieved May 27, 2019.
  10. ^ "Discovery Circumstances: Numbered Minor Planets (1)-(5000)". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 2021-10-27.
  11. ^ "Discovery Circumstances: Numbered Minor Planets (543001)-(544000)". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 2021-10-27.
  12. ^ "Near-Earth Object groups", Near Earth Object Project, NASA, archived from the original on 2002-02-02, retrieved 2011-12-24
  13. ^ Connors, Martin; Wiegert, Paul; Veillet, Christian (July 2011), "Earth's Trojan asteroid", Nature, 475 (7357): 481–483, Bibcode:2011Natur.475..481C, doi:10.1038/nature10233, PMID 21796207, S2CID 205225571
  14. ^ Trilling, David; et al. (October 2007), "DDT observations of five Mars Trojan asteroids", Spitzer Proposal ID #465, Bibcode:2007sptz.prop..465T
  15. ^ Horner, J.; Evans, N.W.; Bailey, M. E. (2004). "Simulations of the Population of Centaurs I: The Bulk Statistics". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 354 (3): 798–810. arXiv:astro-ph/0407400. Bibcode:2004MNRAS.354..798H. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2004.08240.x. S2CID 16002759.
  16. ^ Neptune trojans, Jupiter trojans
  17. ^ "Running Tallies – Minor Planets Discovered". IAU Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  18. ^ Dr. David Jewitt. "Classical Kuiper Belt Objects". David Jewitt/UCLA. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
  19. ^ Schmadel, Lutz (10 June 2012). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names (6 ed.). Springer. p. 15. ISBN 9783642297182.
  20. ^ "Naming Astronomical Objects". International Astronomical Union. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
  21. ^ NASA JPL Small-Body Database Browser on 96747 Crespodasilva
  22. ^ Staff (November 28, 2000). "Lucy Crespo da Silva, 22, a senior, dies in fall". Hubble News Desk. Retrieved 2008-04-15.
  23. ^ 谷 'valley' being a common abbreviation of 穀 'grain' that would be formally adopted with simplified Chinese characters.
  24. ^ "Division III Commission 15 Physical Study of Comets & Minor Planets". International Astronomical Union (IAU). September 29, 2005. Archived from the original on May 14, 2009. Retrieved 2010-03-22.
  25. ^ "Physical Properties of Asteroids".
  26. ^ "The Near-Earth Asteroids Data Base". Archived from the original on 2014-08-21. Retrieved 2010-03-23.