Moon – Venus/Pleiades/Asteroid Vesta Conjunction

   It is Earth Hour on Saturday evening March 28th. So while you have the lights off step outside, if possible and weather permitting, and look toward the western horizon for the 4.5-day old waxing crescent Moon to be near the inner planet Venus (about 7o) and about 2-3o from Asteroid Vesta over the western horizon at sunset local time. With binoculars you can almost fit the Moon, Pleiades, and Venus within the field of view.

   Keep an eye on this area because over the next week or so Venus will move across and then past the open star cluster, the Pleiades. This animated graphic is set to 1-day intervals from April 2nd to April 5th.
   The Moon is also in motion as it continues its eastward motion across the sky but the dates for the graphic the Moon has moved past this area.


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

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Asteroid Vesta Passes Saturn

   For the next several evenings Asteroid Vesta will be passing within 2-3o from the outer planet Saturn. Currently Vesta is only a couple of months past opposition, June 20th, and is still bright enough to be seen and followed as its position relative to Saturn slowly changes each evening. Saturn has an apparent magnitude of 0.47 while Asteroid Vesta has an apparent magnitude of 7.0.

   With binoculars Vesta is visible under dark enough skies and with careful observation and a star map of that area the motion of Vesta may be followed. In that same general area, within the field of view of 10×50 binoculars, at least 3 Messier objects may also be seen. The Lagoon Nebula, M-8; The Trifid Nebula, M-20; and open star cluster, M-21.
   This animated graphic shows a binocular view of Saturn and Vesta each day from September 25th to the 30th.


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

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Catch an Asteroid!

   Asteroid 4 Vesta, the 2nd largest and brightest asteroid reached opposition this month (June 19th) and for a brief time following opposition, through July, the asteroid will be close to Earth and more visible. This graphic shows the view at about 10 pm CDT on June 21st. Vesta will essentially stay in this general area but over time will slowly move westward as the distance between Vesta and Earth increases. Keep in mind that over the next week or so the Moon will move past this part of the sky as it waxes through full phase. As the Moon gets closer to Vesta it will become increasingly difficult to see the much dimmer Vesta. The Moon light should no longer be an issue after the Moon has moved toward the east enough.
   Vesta has an average diameter of 329 miles (530 km) and orbits the Sun in approximately 3.6 years in an elliptically shaped orbit that takes it to an aphelion distance of 2.57 AU (238,896,425 miles – 384,466,528 km) and a perihelion distance on 2.15 AU (199,854,986 miles – 321,635,422 km).

   During the next month or so Vesta will be bright enough to be seen with binoculars and certainly with a telescope. It’s current apparent magnitude is 5.3 meaning it could be seen with the naked eye – under dark enough skies. Even if you cannot see the asteroid there are certainly other deep sky objects in the area near Vesta including one of the four the ringed planets, Saturn.


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

Also Follow me and other great resources at Feedspot.

Dawn at Sunrise

Asteroid Vesta

Asteroid Vesta

   This NASA picture of the day is from the NASA/JPL Dawn mission now more or less at the halfway point. The picture is a beautiful mosaic of asteroid Vesta showing an incredible amount of detail in surface features. Vesta is the third largest object in the main asteroid belt, following Ceres (now a Dwarf Planet) and Pallas. Vesta was the first of two stops that the Dawn spacecraft has been scheduled to make. Having left Vesta during September 2012 after a one-year visit to Vesta the Dawn spacecraft is now on its way to the largest object in the main belt – Dwarf Planet Ceres. Arrival at Ceres will be during spring of 2015.

   Click on the picture of Vesta to go to the press release page, or click here to go to the Dawn mission web site for more information, multimedia, and resources for educators, parents (the same!), and kids.

Click on image to see full size.

Click on image to see full size.

   This graphic shows a view looking eastward at 11 UT, (6 am CDT). on 1 October. There are a number of objects of interest all of which are staggered in a stair-step pattern toward the horizon. (Not shown because it is higher above the horizon is Jupiter near the Gemini Twins.)
   The very thin 26-day old waning crescent Moon is close to the star Regulus in Leo the Lion. Regulus is the bottom of a group of stars arranged in a backward question mark. Can you find those stars?.
Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   Further down the ‘stairs’ are Vesta and Ceres. Vesta is at about 7th magnitude, while Ceres is at 8th magnitude, this means that both are too dim to be seen with the naked-eye. However just looking toward that area and knowing that we have a spacecraft that is traveling from one to the other is kind of cool. However #2 is that with a telescope or time exposure pictures a person would be able to see and follow the asteroids as they slowly move along their respective orbital paths. These two are located near the three stars forming the triangle-shaped backside of the Lion, a shape recognizable by anyone familiar with the constellation.
   As an added bonus Comet ISON is right along side of Mars. Although currently too dim in magnitude for naked-eye or binocular/small telescope viewing a person could start their personal observations of the comet as it moves toward perihelion in November, and then possibly put on a good display during December. Viewing this same part of the sky at about the same time you can follow the comet as its path takes it past Vesta and Ceres during the first week of November.

   I’ll periodically post about the comet including describing my digital camera photography attempts, however there are many easily found places on the web with information about the comet.

   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

The Twins, Venus, and Vesta

Click on image to see it full size.

Click on image to see it full size.

   This evening, 22 June, look toward the west for two stars, more or less side-by-side. These are Pollux and Castor, the ‘twin’ stars of the constellation Gemini. Very close to Pollux, the left star, is the planet Venus, and less than 5 degrees away from Venus is the largest asteroid, Vesta. With 7×50 binoculars all three will fit within the field of view as this graphic shows.
   However, and this is a ‘big however’, Venus, and the others are not that high above the horizon around sunset as the banner graphic at the top of the page shows.

   The NASA Dawn mission has recently visited the asteroid Vesta and the spacecraft is currently on its way to the Dwarf Planet Ceres. Click here to go to the NASA Dawn mission web site.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Solar System Exploration Missions Updates

Waning Gibbous Moon this morning.

ISS Space Walk: Last week’s space walk to install some instruments was not successful so another space walk and attempt by two astronauts has been scheduled for tomorrow (Wednesday August 5th). NASA will broadcast the space walk beginning at 6 a.m. EDT and the actual space walk is scheduled to begin around 7:15 a.m. EDT.
Click here to read the full press release and for viewing information.

It’s Hasta la Vesta, Baby! The Dawn spacecraft is scheduled to leave asteroid Vesta late tonight Pacific time on its way to the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the main asteroid belt. The Dawn mission is setting many ‘firsts’ including the use of ion propulsion, and having a mission that will visit two solar system objects. Watch for arrival at Ceres in the first half of 2015.
Click here to visit the Dawn mission web site.

Planets and Spacecraft

We are less than a week away from the MSL landing on Mars, and toward the end of August the Dawn mission leaves its orbit around asteroid Vesta and heads to the other side of the main asteroid belt to dwarf planet Ceres.

August 6 – 5:30 am CDT

This week Asteroid Vesta will be passing through the stars of the open cluster the Hyades – the face of Taurus the Bull. On the 6th it will be less than half a degree, actually around 14 minutes,  from the reddish star Aldebaran. Vesta is at a magnitude of around 7-8 so it is technically beyond naked eye visibility but from experience I know that it will be as a star-like point of light in binoculars. And given the star field it will be passing through makes it all the more easy to observe.
While out this week keep an eye out for the International Space Station. From my home there is what I would guess is a rare opportunity to see the ISS 4 times in one day – two in the morning and two that night on Monday the 6th. Throughout this week there are several opportunities so be sure to check the ‘sightings’ web ( for visibility in your area.
This Sunday evening go outside and look above the western horizon for a trio of relatively bright stars forming a triangle. The vertical base of the triangle is formed by Saturn and the star Spica while the west pointing tip of the triangle is the planet Mars. Within a few hours of your evening observation the Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity, will be landing near the 96 mile diameter Gale Crater.  At 12:31 am CDT on August 6th we should receive radio verification from the vehicle that is has landed – which including radio travel time from Mars means that the rover has actually been on the surface for nearly the past 14 minutes.
Click here to visit the Mars Science Laboratory web site.