|Asteroid 1/Ceres - The first asteroid discovered, Ceres shows its best face to date in this Hubble Space Telescope Near-Infrared image. At nearly 600 miles in diameter, not even Hubble can see much detail, yet it's obvious that Ceres is spherical. Marcus Blair's observation and description of Ceres appearing as a small "disk" is an accurate description. - Bob Moody|
Tuesday, I decided I had to discover which object was Ceres. I went to www.heavens-above.com, an extremely useful Web site on which you can input your observing location and discover the locations of thousands of things. It also will tell you when satellites, the International Space Station, and the Hubble Space Telescope will be sailing over your area. Luckily, it also has a good “minor planets” section that has detailed diagrams of what will be in the eyepiece when you look for things like Ceres.
I printed out the diagram of Ceres’ location in Libra and waited for dusk. I turned the ETX toward the supposed location of Ceres and BAM! – with the help of the diagram, the asteroid basically jumped out of the eyepiece! It became very obviously a planetoid body. What I had thought was Ceres was really a star that the asteroid is fast approaching. I compared the two. When you look for asteroids, you will notice that stars shed light and twinkle a bit, while asteroids, like planets, will reflect light, appearing much more solid, immediate, close, and pale than the stars. Ceres appeared to me as a salmon-colored disk about 3-5 times larger than one of Jupiter’s moons (though far less bright). There are many other asteroids to be found as well. Vesta is the brightest, though it currently is in Auriga and below the horizon at dusk. The Astronomical League awards an asteroid observing certificate similar to the Messier certificate.
It’s astonishing to have observed an asteroid. I’m going to track it again tonight and tomorrow night, just to be 100 percent sure (this is science, after all ), that I have indeed seen Ceres. For those of who may be interested in seeing it tonight, go to this page to see it’s current location:
I imagine this is also a good way to search for Pluto, though I lack the aperture for that. I encourage everyone to give this activity a shot. If Piazzi could see this rock in the year 1801, you can certainly see it today.