You can't be Ceres!? Why yes, yes I am....

Mar 4

Written by:
3/4/2013 12:25 PM  RssIcon

Ceres is one of the largest asteroids in our solar system.  It's orbit is between that of Mars and Jupiter, so unlike the object that fell over Chelbayinsk Russia a week or two ago, this object has no chance of getting anywhere near Earth.  That said, it reflects enough sunlight to be easily seen... with a bit of optical aid.  With Earth increasing the distance from it due to it's faster revolution around the Sun, Ceres has dropped in magnitude to around 7.6 this week.  But that still places it within the grasp of 50mm binoculars, and certainly most any small telescope.

But here's the best part: It is RIGHT next to a very bright stars this week!  

At magnitude 1.7, the star Alnath is the 28th brightest star in the entire night sky, meaning that even from severely light polluted areas, you can see this star, and therefore find Ceres.  At around 8:00 at night, face southwest.  You should easily see the three belt stars of Orion.  Up and to the left of there, you will see two bright points of light; the brighter one is Jupiter.  Nearby and slightly closer to Orion is Aldebaran, the "eye" of Taurus the Bull.  Above that, and a bit to the left, is Capella, which is the brightest star in Auriga, the Charioteer.  (continued below)

Wide field view of night sky, facing southwest in late winter

Drawing out the shape of Taurus, we can create two horns for it; one goes below Auriga, and the other is above it, and meets the lower section of that hexagonal shape of Auriga.  Where that horn ends is the star Alnath, which is still technically Taurus, even if Auriga seems to get part of it's shape from it.

This week, Ceres passes within 1/2 a degree from Alnath.  This makes the asteroid easy to find.  Look at the chart below; the asteroid moves about 1/6 of a degree each day.  (Locations given on the chart are for 8:00 pm CST).  If you have clear skies, watch this asteroid move over the next week or so.  The chart below shows the directions to both Capella and Aldebaran so you can orient the chart with your point of view.  From top to bottom, the chart encompasses 5 degrees, so you can see pretty much everything on this chart in a set of binoculars.  A telescope will restrict the view a lot, so use low power to see both the star and Ceres.  Most telescopes should show both from March 5th through the 9th.

Path of asteroid Ceres

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The Nightlight

This blog includes what to see in the night and daytime skies, thoughts on telescopes, binoculars, and other astronomy observing accessories and equipment, plus my own occasional notes on objects I've seen and observed. Oh, and the random theater or other "my take on life" post. In other words, there is always something interesting. Check it out.