Have you ever seen a dwarf planet? Of the five within our solar system recognised by the International Astronomical Union – Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake and Eris – only Ceres can be considered bright and easy to locate. It reaches opposition in the constellation of Scorpius on 29 May at magnitude +7, an easy binocular object if you follow our guide.
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, 4 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.