Monday, March 4, 2013

Asteroid hunting: Ceres and Vesta

If someone had told me a year ago that I'd be able to see asteroids from my apartment building with an 8 megapixel camera, I would have said "you're crazy!" Currently at magnitude 7.54 and 7.25 respectively, Ceres and Vesta were my best chances for bagging some big rocks near the limit of my camera's (and sky conditions') capacity.

The dwarf planet Ceres is the largest asteroid in the asteroid belt. At nearly 600 miles in diameter, it is the would-be planet that never came to exist thanks to a disruptive gravity tug from Jupiter. Ceres alone comprises nearly 1/3 of the mass of the asteroid belt. 

Vesta, the second largest asteroid, is typically the brightest asteroid. Vesta is over 300 miles in diamater and makes up about 9% of the mass of the asteroid belt. Vesta was recently visited by NASA's Dawn spacecraft

Stack of 46 subs, each at 75mm, ISO 1600, f/4.5, 4 sec (cropped)
Stack of 43 subs, each at 75mm, ISO 1600, f/4.5, 4 sec (cropped)
The asteroids are barely visible, but after some tedious work lining up charts in Stellarium and Star Walk, I'm confient that these dots are asteroids and not dim stars. This is also my first sighting of open cluster M35, so I can check that one off my list!

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