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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • Looking Up: See two asteroids at once

  • Two of the largest asteroids in the Solar System, Ceres and Vesta, happen to appear unusually close together this spring. They appear in binoculars as two points of light, like dim stars. This is exciting.
    What can be exciting about two points of lights needing binoculars to see them?
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  •   Two of the largest asteroids in the Solar System, Ceres and Vesta, happen to appear unusually close together this spring. They appear in binoculars as two points of light, like dim stars. This is exciting.
       What can be exciting about two points of lights needing binoculars to see them?
       If you have caught a passion for the night sky, you likely haven't thought of that question, loving every faint star like it was the brightest in the sky. On the other hand, the curious public wants to know, and those who have gained some interest and experience have the privilege to show the way.
       Look at it this way: You should be REALLY thankful that NONE of the asteroids EVER - or almost never- appear more than a "faint point of light." If they looked bright and you could see their shape, then you may want to "duck" if that were possible!
        Much has been said in recent years about asteroids and their potential threat to the Earth and life as we know it. A concerted effort is underway to search for asteroids that cross anywhere near the Earth's path.
        We need only to look at the meteorite that crashed into a frozen lake in Russia on February 15, 2013. Actually a small asteroid about 45 meters wide, the rock streaked across the sky over Russia's Chelyabinsk region, over 60 times the speed of sound and brighter than the Sun. Over 1,000 people were injured by the atmospheric pressure wave, with extensive damage to buildings.
        It served as a reminder of what could occur and that a much larger asteroid could have been much more devastating
        Thankfully, the vast majority of known asteroids never come near us.
        Ceres and Vesta happen to be among the first two ever discovered, the two largest and the two brightest in the sky. Vesta can at times barely be seen with unaided eyes under a dark sky. Both are easy targets in binoculars. They both travel between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
     Not normally seen near each other in the night sky, they are actually 40 million miles apart at their current closest approach to each other.
       Ceres, 590 miles wide, was the first asteroid discovered, Jan. 1, 1801. Vesta, the fourth found, is 326  miles wide. It was located on March 29, 1807.
       Sky & Telescope Magazine for June 2014 has an article and chart to show you where to find these two asteroids, night to night. See also skyandtelescope.com.
       They are both crossing through the constellation Virgo, seen in the south on June evenings.
       Not far away, also in Virgo, you will find the reddish planet Mars, now a lot dimmer than it appeared a couple months ago but still prominent.
    Page 2 of 2 -    The same magazine issue also had a fascinating article about a distant asteroid, Chariklo, found to have a system of rings, somewhat like Saturn! The astroid orbits between Saturn and Uranus. Astronomers could not see the rings but detected their presence by observing how background stars blinked as the faint ring system passed in front.
       The Universe never ceases to evoke wonder and amazement.
        Full Moon is on June 13.
    Keep looking up!

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