Ceres and Vesta curtain call before summer ends

Aug 10

Written by:
8/10/2014 8:02 PM  RssIcon

The minor, dwarf planets Ceres and Vesta are fascinating objects: Small, located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, they are oddball objects. Vesta isn't round, as it didn't have enough mass to become spherical when it formed. Ceres did, though in an odd twist for us, Vesta is the brighter of the two. 

A few months ago, the two were in conjunction with each other from our perspective, back in early July. This month, they are further apart, but still easily found even with binoculars under moderately dark skies. At magnitude 6.8, Vesta is the easier one to pick off, while Ceres at magnitude 8.2, will be at the limit of many people's observational capabilities in most average 7x50 astronomy binoculars. But a small telescope of even 60 or 70 millimeters can amp up the light gathering enough to find both of these objects. 

So where are they in the sky? To start, look at the sky view graphic below: 

Location of Vesta and Ceres August 2014The brighter objects in the area can help those under light polluted conditions locate the fainter ones. Look for Saturn, as Mars will be moving quickly eastward, or consult a planetarium program for current location. There is 2.8 magnitude star in Libra that makes a great place from which to jump off. The colorfully named Zubenelgenubi is a an easily-split, binoculars-visible double star. From there, it's a matter of hopping to the locations of the dwarf planets based on their location. 

Vesta and Ceres star chart

For much of the month, sliding over to Delta, Kappa and Iota Virginis will get most observers in the right general location to start (see chart below). Later in the month, that will still be a good way to track down Ceres, but the short, diminishing magnitude trail of stars off Zubenelgenubi will make for an easier line to follow towards Vesta. 

Click here for an easily printed PDF chart for Vesta and Ceres

There's a lot more here on Eyes on the Sky. For example, every week on the homepage there is a new astronomy video about observing objects in the night sky. They're only 5 minutes long - why not check out the latest one right now?

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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.