Archive for the ‘Minor Planet’ Category

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Mission 17: See an asteroid

February 18, 2010

Mission Objective: Asteroid

Equipment: Binoculars

Required Time: 5 minutes

Instructions: Go to Heavens Above or fire up Stellarium and find the position of the asteroid 4 Vesta. It would be pointless for me to post a map for you, because by the time you read this, it will have moved at least a little. But do it soonish, because tonight–actually as I write this–Vesta is at opposition and thus as close to Earth and as bright as it is going to get this year. Also, right now it is cruising past the shoulder of the constellation Leo, close to the bright stars Algieba (same binocular field) and Regulus (close enough to get you moving in the right direction), which are bright enough that you should be able to see them even through light pollution. Use binoculars because you’ll want that wide field of view for sweeping from Regulus up to Algieba and then finding Vesta. You don’t need a scope for this one because there is literally nothing to see; Vesta is so tiny and so far away that you will not see it as more than a point of light.

While you gaze on this little point of light in your binoculars, you can reflect on the facts that Vesta was considered a planet for about four decades following its discovery in  1807, and that we have pieces of it that were blasted off in an ancient collision and have fallen to Earth as meteorites. (We’re pretty sure that these meteorites are bits of Vesta because they have the same composition.)

Have fun!