Courtesy of EarthSky
A Clear Voice for Science
Vesta is the third largest body in the asteroid belt – a region of the solar system where thousands of little rocky worlds orbit the sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Vesta has a diameter of about 330 miles.
Vesta will be at opposition – opposite the sun in Earth’s sky – tonight. It is around opposition time that a solar system world comes closest to Earth and shines most brightly in our sky. At opposition, a celestial body rises in the east around sunset, climbs highest in the sky at midnight and sets in the west around sunrise.
Although Vesta can’t be seen with the unaided eye, it is easily visible in binoculars. The whole trick to finding Vesta is to know right where to look.
That is where the constellation Leo the Lion comes in handy. For the next several nights, Vesta will be close to the Leo star, Algieba (Gamma Leonis). Lucky for us, Algieba and Vesta will appear in the same binocular field together. Although binoculars show Algieba doubling up with another star (40 Leonis), each star shines more brightly than fainter Vesta. Here is detailed sky chart, courtesy of Sky & Telescope magazine.
Can’t find Leo? Do you know how to use the Big Dipper pointers to find Polaris, the North Star? Simply draw a line through these same two pointer stars – but in the opposite direction – to locate Leo the Lion.
If you’re not sure whether that pinpoint of light flying near the binocular double star is Vesta or not, look again on another night. Vesta will have moved relative to the backdrop stars.
Written by Bruce McClure
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