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Breakdown: Why now is the time to see the first known asteroid: Ceres

Published: Nov. 5, 2021 at 2:00 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Get ready to dust off your binoculars or telescope and head to a dark-sky site to see Ceres.

Ceres was the first asteroid discovered, back in 1801. (It has since been reclassified as a dwarf planet as of 2006).

  • (Note that the name asteroid means starlike. From Earth, Ceres looks like a star. But because it’s so close to us, it can be seen to move in front of the stars from night to night)

It is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres is about 600 miles across, or about 1/4 the size of our moon.

If you have a telescope or good binoculars, now is the time to start watching Ceres. You can observe it through the end of the month.

Ceres will be at opposition – opposite the sun in our sky – on November 27. At that time, it’ll rise at sunset and set at sunrise.

A planet is 'at opposition' when the Earth is directly between the Sun and the planet
A planet is 'at opposition' when the Earth is directly between the Sun and the planet(NASA)

At opposition, you will have to look high in the western sky.

How to find Ceres in Tennessee
How to find Ceres in Tennessee(theskylive.com)

Click here to view a simplified sky chart showing where to find the Dwarf Planet from your location (by state).

The brightness of astronomical objects is measured in something called magnitude, with lower numbers indicating brighter objects.

The magnitude scale is much like golf in that the lower number means a greater brightness on...
The magnitude scale is much like golf in that the lower number means a greater brightness on the magnitude scale and a better score in golf.(https://earthsky.org/)

From a location free of light pollution, you can see objects down to about magnitude 6, and Ceres will be at its brightest in late November, shining around magnitude 7.

Bottom line: With Ceres at opposition November 27, the dwarf planet is closest to Earth and therefore brightest, making it a great time to observe. Ceres will be near Aldebaran around the first few days of November.

Ceres was a target for study by the Dawn spacecraft:

The Dawn spacecraft arrived at Ceres in 2015. The spacecraft caused a stir while approaching...
The Dawn spacecraft arrived at Ceres in 2015. The spacecraft caused a stir while approaching Ceres, when it began to capture images of bright spots on the dwarf planet’s surface. People joked that the spots looked like alien headlights. But they turned out to be salt deposits from salty water inside the planet. Dawn also found a 2.5-mile (4,000-meter) high mountain called Ahuna Mons.(NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ UCLA/ MPS/ DLR/ IDA.)

Dawn arrived at Ceres in 2015. The spacecraft caused a stir while approaching Ceres, when it began to capture images of bright spots on the dwarf planet’s surface. People joked that the spots looked like alien headlights. But they turned out to be salt deposits from salty water inside the planet.

Dawn also found a 2.5-mile high mountain called Ahuna Mons.

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