October 3rd, 2015
Asteroid 4 Vesta reaches opposition tonight, which means it appears directly opposite the Sun in the night sky. Consequently, it rises at sunset and will set at sunrise, making this an excellent time to catch the tiny world.
Vesta is actually the brightest of all the objects in the asteroid belt and is the second most massive (after the dwarf planet Ceres.) Despite its size and brightness, it never appears as anything more than a tiny star-like point of light in the night sky.
Fortunately, Vesta is one of the few asteroids that we’ve explored with a space probe. An unmanned spacecraft called Dawn was launched in September 2007 and started to orbit the world nearly four years later, in July of 2011. Its cameras showed us a fascinating, irregularly shaped rocky world covered in craters.
If you want to try your luck tonight, you’ll need a pair of binoculars and some familiarity with the constellations of autumn. Some way below the square of Pegasus is Diphda, a yellow-ish star also known as Beta Ceti, one of the brighter stars in Cetus the Whale. Look for two slightly fainter stars to the north, Iota and Eta Ceti. Vesta appears a little to the east of Iota.
All Astronomical Events for October 3rd, 2015
04:34 UT – Asteroid 4 Vesta is at opposition. (Magnitude 6.1. Cetus, all night.)
Events in bold involve objects and/or events that are visible with the naked eye.
All times are in Universal Time (UTC). To convert the time to your timezone, click here.
Astronomical events taken from 2015: An Astronomical Year, available in Kindle and paperback formats from Amazon in the US, Canada and the United Kingdom. Night sky simulations created using Mobile Observatory for Android devices. Vesta image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
2015: An Astronomical Year
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