Planetary Science

What is the difference between Planets and Dwarf Planets?


Wiki User

As you might guess, it's partly an issue of size, with dwarf planets being smaller. But just how big does a planet need to be to become a full-fledged planet instead of a dwarf? You might think the minimum size requirement is arbitrary, but the size cutoff is actually based on other properties of the object and its history in the Solar System.

Both planets and dwarf planets orbit the Sun, not other planets (in which case we call them moons). Both must be large enough that their own gravity pulls them into the shapes of spheres; this rules out numerous smaller bodies like most asteroids, many of which have irregular shapes. Planets clear smaller objects out of their orbits by sucking the small bodies into themselves or flinging them out of orbit. Dwarf planets, with their weaker gravities, are unable to clear out their orbits.