Image Credit & Copyright: NASA Dawn spacecraft photo of Vesta and NASA/ESA Hubble photo of Ceres: CLICK image for larger view and look below for information and detailed links with finder charts etc.

Want to see the only dwarf planet in the inner solar system? How about the second most massive (3rd largest in size) asteroid in the main asteroid belt? Well the extremely eventful month of April affords you just that as dwarf planet 1-Ceres and asteroid 4-Vesta reach opposition.

Asteroid 4-Vesta with an orbital period (year) of 3.63 Earth years; reaches opposition on April 13th and will be a naked eye apparent magnitude of 5.8. Dwarf planet Ceres with an orbital period (year) of 4.60 Earth years; reaches opposition on April 15th and will reach an apparent magnitude of 7.0 which is just out of naked eye visibility but well within range for binoculars and small telescopes. They are located in the constellation Virgo not too far from Mars who is also in Virgo. This is actually a pretty cool event because Ceres and Vesta only meet up and travel through the sky together every 17 years.

Some of you may be wondering why Dwarf Planet Ceres is dimmer than asteroid Vesta when they are both main asteroid belt objects and Ceres makes up a third of all the mass of the main asteroid belt, stretches 590 miles in diameter and is 60% larger in diameter than 326 mile in diameter Vesta. The answer lies in the vast expanse that is the main asteroid belt which places the much larger Ceres roughly 40 million miles more distant than the highly reflective Vesta. At opposition, Vesta will be 115 million miles from Earth while Ceres at opposition will be 152 million miles from Earth.

Also, these objects are far away; much more distant than Mars so you won’t be able to look up and see them move in real time but instead you will have to know where they are. If you watch them and or photograph both every few days you will see that they’ve moved for sure.

Just a bit of thought provoking fun; if you get out and look at Ceres, Vesta and Mars all congregating in Virgo, reflect for a moment that you’re also looking at numerous objects made by humanity and sent from Earth now traveling, orbiting and roving. The Dawn spacecraft (though too small to view) left Vesta on September 5, 2012 and is slated to arrive at Ceres in early 2015. At Mars there is the Mars Global Surveyor, Odyssey orbiter, Mars Express orbiter, Mars Reconniassance Orbiter, 2 Viking landers, Pathfinder lander & Sojourner rover, Spirit & Opportunity, Phoenix lander, MSL Curiosity and numerous remains of failed/crashed missions. All of this, within a couple binocular fields of view……I think that’s pretty damn cool.

Sky & Telescope page for this event: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/highlights/Ceres-and-Vesta-in-2014-243533241.html

Harvard Center for Astrophysics: April Sky: http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/pao/skyreport/solar_system.html

The Sky Live: Exact Locations for Dwarf Planets & Asteroids: http://theskylive.com/asteroids-and-dwarf-planets

Heavens-Above VESTA locator: http://www.heavens-above.com/MinorPlanet.aspx?desig=4&lat=0&lng=0&loc=Unspecified&alt=0&tz=UCT

Heavens-Above CERES locator: http://www.heavens-above.com/MinorPlanet.aspx?desig=1&lat=0&lng=0&loc=Unspecified&alt=0&tz=UCT

NakedEyePlanets VESTA & CERES 2014: http://www.nakedeyeplanets.com/vesta-ceres-2014.htm

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