Many of you may have tracked down an asteroid with binoculars or a telescope, but have you ever seen one with the naked eye? If not, then June presents you with an opportunity to see the brightest, 1 Vesta, at a close opposition. What’s more, ringed planet Saturn lies close by to act as a convenient guide.
While antipodean observers are enjoying views of the totally eclipsed Blue Moon in Cancer the Crab on the night of 31 January/1 February, Northern Hemisphere observers should look out for magnitude +6.9 1 Ceres at opposition in the northern fringes of the same constellation. The dwarf planet puts on a good show in the dark of the Moon during February.
Two wayward space rocks, which separately crashed to Earth in 1998 after circulating in our solar system’s asteroid belt for billions of years, share something else in common: the ingredients for life. They are the first meteorites found to contain both liquid water and a mix of complex organic compounds such as hydrocarbons and amino acids.
In the ten years since its launch from Cape Canaveral, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has orbited the two largest worlds in the asteroid belt and overcome defective components that threatened to derail the mission on its 4 billion-mile voyage, discovering unexpectedly rich geologic tapestries suggesting both destinations have a watery past.
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft successfully observed Ceres at opposition on April 29, taking images from a position exactly between the Sun and Ceres’ surface. Mission specialists had carefully maneuvered Dawn into a special orbit so that the spacecraft could view Occator Crater, which contains the brightest area of Ceres, from this new perspective.
Scientists have long thought that Ceres may have a very weak, transient atmosphere, but mysteries lingered about its origin and why it’s not always present. Now, researchers suggest that this temporary atmosphere appears to be related to the behaviour of the Sun, rather than Ceres’ proximity to the Sun.