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Thursday, December 21, 2023


Seeing Vesta at Opposition (22 December 2023)

Evening sky on Friday, December 22 as seen from Adelaide at 22:16 ACDST (90 minutes after sunset). Asteroid Vesta is at apposition in Orion.  The inset is the binocular view of Vesta at this time. At magnitude 6.6 it will be an easy binocular object near clear guide stars. Similar views will be seen elsewhere in Australia at the equivalent local time.The approximate binocular view of Vesta and the guide stars at on from Thursday, December 23 on.  with the track of Vesta shown  (click to embiggen, similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local time).
Black and white horizon chart facing east suitable for printing showing the guide objects of 4 Vesta Elnath, Propus and Chi orionus  as seen from Adelaide at 22:16 ACDST. Similar views will be seen elsewhere in Australia at the equivalent local time. Use the charts above to orient yourself to get to the guide stars.Black and white binocular chart suitable for printing showing the movement of 4 Vesta over December. The large circle represents the field of view of 10x50 binoculars. Click to embiggen and print.  Use the horizon chart to the left for orientation first.

The Asteroid 4 Vesta is one of the iconic minor planets, and one of two orbited by the Dawn spacecraft. At favorable oppositions Vesta is bright enough to be seen with the unaided eye under dark sky conditions. This year it gets to magnitude 5.8 just over unaided eye visibility at dark sky sites. Not really visible from suburban skies, but it will be easily visible in binoculars and small telescopes.

This year on Friday, December 22 is a  so-so opposition of Vesta, when it will reach a magnitude of 6.4  at its brightest with reasonable guide stars and some Moon interference. The next bright opposition is May 2025 it will reach magnitude 5.6 with good guide stars.

This year Vesta has some reasonable signposts to it, just before and just after opposition Vesta is roughly between the moderately bright star ζ-Tau (Tianguan) and the moderately bright star Propus. In binoculars if you star hop from the bright star Aldebaran to ζ-Tau, the fainter star that represents the tip of the second horn of Taurus (brighter Elnath represents the tip of the other horn, see charts above), then about a binocular width away is the distinctive trio of 𝛘1 Orionis, 57 Orionis and HIP 27747. Vesta is in the same binocular field just under 𝛘1 Orionis. Vesta's movement from night to night easily seen.
Finding Vesta with the charts should be easy. Print them out and use with a red-light torch (or a standard torch with red cellophane over it) so as to not disturb your night vision.

The waxing Moon will interfere later in the month, but now the waxing Moon should allow Vesta to be easily seen.

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