Dwarf planets refer to those smaller, non-satellite solar objects which possess enough gravity to become spherical, but not enough to clear their surroundings of debris (unlike the planets). The classification was introduced in 2006 by the International Astronomical Union, following the 2005 discovery of Eris, a large, spherical body in the Kuiper belt. Astronomers realized that a classification was necessary for these “in-between” solar objects, those more developed than asteroids, but gravitationally weaker than the planets. In our solar system, Ceres, Pluto and Eris are classified as dwarf planets (pictured below, courtesy of NASA).
A dwarf planet is an object large enough to pull itself (with gravity) into a nearly round shape, but not large enough to have cleared most of the objects in its path. For instance, Ceres (a dwarf planet) is large enough to have pulled itself into a nearly round shape, but since its orbit is in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, it definitely has not cleared most of the objects around it.
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