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    See the asteroid Vesta
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2010 Feb 14, 05:59 -0800

    Ever seen an asteroid? They don't look like much. That's what "asteroid" means --star-like. But if you've always wanted to, and you never have, there's a really fine opportunity in the next couple of days.

    The asteroid Vesta, brightest main-belt asteroid as seen from Earth (bright due to its unusual surface... but not quite the largest), is at opposition in the next couple of days. By good luck, Vesta passes very close to the second brightest star in the asterism we all know as "the Sickle" in Leo on Monday/Tuesday evening. Get out a pair of binoculars, or just the telescope from your favorite sextant, and Vesta will be the little star right near Gamma Leonis. That's the star right at the bend in the Sickle. It won't look like anything more than an ordinary star, around sixth magnitude, but it will move, very plainly, from night to night over the next couple of days. For the "big four" asteroids, it doesn't get any better than this!

    For a little historical background, Vesta was discovered by Heinrich Olbers in 1807. Olbers gave famous astronomer and all around genius, Karl Friedrich Gauss the right to name the asteroid. Gauss named it "Vesta". Like Pluto in the twentieth century, the first four "asteroids", Ceres, Pallas, Juno, and Vesta, were counted among the principal planets in their day until, like Pluto, it was recognized that they were much smaller objects, the first representatives of a class of minor planets.

    There's a finder chart and a few other details on the web site of "Sky & Telescope" here:


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