Vesta the brightest asteroid or minor planet is now visible with binoculars and small telescopes and is well placed for observation as it heads towards opposition on January 17th. Although it won't quite this time reach naked eye brightness the asteroid remains at least as bright as seventh magnitude from now until the end of March. At peak, Vesta hits magnitude +6.2 in January and throughout the next few months will appear bright, easy to spot and follow with either a pair of quality binoculars or a small scope.

Vesta imaged on September 5, 2012 by the departing NASA Dawn spacecraft (credit:- NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

Discovery

Vesta was the fourth asteroid to be discovered on March 29, 1807 by German astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers. With a diameter 530 kilometres (330 miles) it's the third largest body - after Ceres and Pallas - in the main asteroid belt. However, Vesta is the brightest asteroid and appears brighter than the above-mentioned pair because it approaches closer to Earth and has a higher albedo or reflective surface. At favourable oppositions Vesta peaks at mag. +5.1, putting it within naked eye visibility.

Location

The asteroid starts December moving retrograde in Cancer and remains there through opposition until it crosses into Gemini on January 19th. It's visible just after sunset in December and remains so for the rest of the night. In January, Vesta is effectively visible all night long, rising in the east at sunset and setting in the west as the Sun reappears on the opposite side of the sky. However, from about January 11th to 15th the bright Moon nearby will somewhat interfere with observations.

At opposition, Vesta will be 1.523 AU (approx. 227.8 million kilometres or 141.6 million miles) from Earth. The next few months offer a superb opportunity to view this asteroid belt object. Don't miss it!

Vesta position in the sky from November 2016 to March 2017 (credit:- freestarcharts)

Vesta position in the sky from November 2016 to March 2017 - pdf format (credit:- freestarcharts)

Vesta Data Table

DateRA (J2000)Dec (J2000)Apparent MagnitudeConstellation
Nov 01, 201608h 17m 58s19d 02m 40s7.9Cancer
Nov 02, 201608h 18m 46s19d 01m 51s7.8Cancer
Nov 03, 201608h 19m 32s19d 01m 07s7.8Cancer
Nov 04, 201608h 20m 18s19d 00m 27s7.8Cancer
Nov 05, 201608h 21m 02s18d 59m 52s7.8Cancer
Nov 06, 201608h 21m 45s18d 59m 22s7.8Cancer
Nov 07, 201608h 22m 27s18d 58m 57s7.8Cancer
Nov 08, 201608h 23m 07s18d 58m 38s7.8Cancer
Nov 09, 201608h 23m 46s18d 58m 24s7.7Cancer
Nov 10, 201608h 24m 24s18d 58m 16s7.7Cancer
Nov 11, 201608h 25m 00s18d 58m 14s7.7Cancer
Nov 12, 201608h 25m 35s18d 58m 17s7.7Cancer
Nov 13, 201608h 26m 09s18d 58m 27s7.7Cancer
Nov 14, 201608h 26m 41s18d 58m 42s7.7Cancer
Nov 15, 201608h 27m 12s18d 59m 04s7.6Cancer
Nov 16, 201608h 27m 41s18d 59m 33s7.6Cancer
Nov 17, 201608h 28m 09s19d 00m 08s7.6Cancer
Nov 18, 201608h 28m 35s19d 00m 50s7.6Cancer
Nov 19, 201608h 28m 60s19d 01m 39s7.6Cancer
Nov 20, 201608h 29m 23s19d 02m 35s7.5Cancer
Nov 21, 201608h 29m 45s19d 03m 38s7.5Cancer
Nov 22, 201608h 30m 04s19d 04m 49s7.5Cancer
Nov 23, 201608h 30m 23s19d 06m 07s7.5Cancer
Nov 24, 201608h 30m 40s19d 07m 32s7.5Cancer
Nov 25, 201608h 30m 55s19d 09m 05s7.5Cancer
Nov 26, 201608h 31m 08s19d 10m 46s7.4Cancer
Nov 27, 201608h 31m 20s19d 12m 35s7.4Cancer
Nov 28, 201608h 31m 30s19d 14m 31s7.4Cancer
Nov 29, 201608h 31m 38s19d 16m 36s7.4Cancer
Nov 30, 201608h 31m 44s19d 18m 49s7.4Cancer
Dec 01, 201608h 31m 49s19d 21m 09s7.3Cancer
Dec 02, 201608h 31m 52s19d 23m 38s7.3Cancer
Dec 03, 201608h 31m 53s19d 26m 16s7.3Cancer
Dec 04, 201608h 31m 52s19d 29m 01s7.3Cancer
Dec 05, 201608h 31m 50s19d 31m 55s7.3Cancer
Dec 06, 201608h 31m 46s19d 34m 57s7.2Cancer
Dec 07, 201608h 31m 39s19d 38m 07s7.2Cancer
Dec 08, 201608h 31m 31s19d 41m 26s7.2Cancer
Dec 09, 201608h 31m 22s19d 44m 52s7.2Cancer
Dec 10, 201608h 31m 10s19d 48m 27s7.1Cancer
Dec 11, 201608h 30m 56s19d 52m 11s7.1Cancer
Dec 12, 201608h 30m 41s19d 56m 02s7.1Cancer
Dec 13, 201608h 30m 24s20d 00m 01s7.1Cancer
Dec 14, 201608h 30m 05s20d 04m 08s7.1Cancer
Dec 15, 201608h 29m 44s20d 08m 24s7.0Cancer
Dec 16, 201608h 29m 21s20d 12m 47s7.0Cancer
Dec 17, 201608h 28m 56s20d 17m 17s7.0Cancer
Dec 18, 201608h 28m 30s20d 21m 55s7.0Cancer
Dec 19, 201608h 28m 02s20d 26m 41s7.0Cancer
Dec 20, 201608h 27m 31s20d 31m 33s6.9Cancer
Dec 21, 201608h 26m 59s20d 36m 33s6.9Cancer
Dec 22, 201608h 26m 26s20d 41m 40s6.9Cancer
Dec 23, 201608h 25m 50s20d 46m 53s6.9Cancer
Dec 24, 201608h 25m 13s20d 52m 12s6.8Cancer
Dec 25, 201608h 24m 34s20d 57m 38s6.8Cancer
Dec 26, 201608h 23m 53s21d 03m 09s6.8Cancer
Dec 27, 201608h 23m 11s21d 08m 46s6.8Cancer
Dec 28, 201608h 22m 27s21d 14m 28s6.7Cancer
Dec 29, 201608h 21m 41s21d 20m 15s6.7Cancer
Dec 30, 201608h 20m 54s21d 26m 07s6.7Cancer
Dec 31, 201608h 20m 05s21d 32m 02s6.7Cancer
Jan 01, 201708h 19m 15s21d 38m 02s6.7Cancer
Jan 02, 201708h 18m 23s21d 44m 05s6.6Cancer
Jan 03, 201708h 17m 30s21d 50m 12s6.6Cancer
Jan 04, 201708h 16m 36s21d 56m 21s6.6Cancer
Jan 05, 201708h 15m 40s22d 02m 32s6.6Cancer
Jan 06, 201708h 14m 44s22d 08m 46s6.5Cancer
Jan 07, 201708h 13m 46s22d 15m 00s6.5Cancer
Jan 08, 201708h 12m 47s22d 21m 16s6.5Cancer
Jan 09, 201708h 11m 47s22d 27m 33s6.5Cancer
Jan 10, 201708h 10m 47s22d 33m 50s6.4Cancer
Jan 11, 201708h 09m 45s22d 40m 07s6.4Cancer
Jan 12, 201708h 08m 43s22d 46m 24s6.4Cancer
Jan 13, 201708h 07m 40s22d 52m 40s6.4Cancer
Jan 14, 201708h 06m 36s22d 58m 54s6.3Cancer
Jan 15, 201708h 05m 32s23d 05m 07s6.3Cancer
Jan 16, 201708h 04m 28s23d 11m 17s6.3Cancer
Jan 17, 201708h 03m 23s23d 17m 26s6.2Cancer
Jan 18, 201708h 02m 18s23d 23m 31s6.2Cancer
Jan 19, 201708h 01m 12s23d 29m 33s6.3Cancer
Jan 20, 201708h 00m 07s23d 35m 32s6.3Gemini
Jan 21, 201707h 59m 01s23d 41m 26s6.3Gemini
Jan 22, 201707h 57m 55s23d 47m 17s6.3Gemini
Jan 23, 201707h 56m 50s23d 53m 03s6.3Gemini
Jan 24, 201707h 55m 45s23d 58m 44s6.4Gemini
Jan 25, 201707h 54m 40s24d 04m 19s6.4Gemini
Jan 26, 201707h 53m 35s24d 09m 49s6.4Gemini
Jan 27, 201707h 52m 32s24d 15m 14s6.4Gemini
Jan 28, 201707h 51m 28s24d 20m 32s6.5Gemini
Jan 29, 201707h 50m 26s24d 25m 44s6.5Gemini
Jan 30, 201707h 49m 24s24d 30m 50s6.5Gemini
Jan 31, 201707h 48m 23s24d 35m 49s6.5Gemini
Feb 01, 201707h 47m 22s24d 40m 41s6.5Gemini
Feb 02, 201707h 46m 23s24d 45m 26s6.6Gemini
Feb 03, 201707h 45m 25s24d 50m 04s6.6Gemini
Feb 04, 201707h 44m 28s24d 54m 34s6.6Gemini
Feb 05, 201707h 43m 33s24d 58m 58s6.6Gemini
Feb 06, 201707h 42m 38s25d 03m 13s6.6Gemini
Feb 07, 201707h 41m 45s25d 07m 22s6.7Gemini
Feb 08, 201707h 40m 54s25d 11m 23s6.7Gemini
Feb 09, 201707h 40m 03s25d 15m 16s6.7Gemini
Feb 10, 201707h 39m 15s25d 19m 02s6.7Gemini
Feb 11, 201707h 38m 28s25d 22m 40s6.7Gemini
Feb 12, 201707h 37m 42s25d 26m 10s6.8Gemini
Feb 13, 201707h 36m 58s25d 29m 33s6.8Gemini
Feb 14, 201707h 36m 16s25d 32m 48s6.8Gemini
Feb 15, 201707h 35m 36s25d 35m 56s6.8Gemini
Feb 16, 201707h 34m 57s25d 38m 56s6.8Gemini
Feb 17, 201707h 34m 20s25d 41m 49s6.9Gemini
Feb 18, 201707h 33m 45s25d 44m 34s6.9Gemini
Feb 19, 201707h 33m 12s25d 47m 12s6.9Gemini
Feb 20, 201707h 32m 41s25d 49m 43s6.9Gemini
Feb 21, 201707h 32m 12s25d 52m 06s6.9Gemini
Feb 22, 201707h 31m 44s25d 54m 22s7.0Gemini
Feb 23, 201707h 31m 19s25d 56m 31s7.0Gemini
Feb 24, 201707h 30m 55s25d 58m 33s7.0Gemini
Feb 25, 201707h 30m 34s26d 00m 28s7.0Gemini
Feb 26, 201707h 30m 14s26d 02m 16s7.0Gemini
Feb 27, 201707h 29m 57s26d 03m 57s7.1Gemini
Feb 28, 201707h 29m 41s26d 05m 32s7.1Gemini
Mar 01, 201707h 29m 28s26d 06m 60s7.1Gemini
Mar 02, 201707h 29m 17s26d 08m 21s7.1Gemini
Mar 03, 201707h 29m 07s26d 09m 36s7.1Gemini
Mar 04, 201707h 29m 00s26d 10m 45s7.2Gemini
Mar 05, 201707h 28m 55s26d 11m 47s7.2Gemini
Mar 06, 201707h 28m 52s26d 12m 44s7.2Gemini
Mar 07, 201707h 28m 50s26d 13m 34s7.2Gemini
Mar 08, 201707h 28m 51s26d 14m 18s7.2Gemini
Mar 09, 201707h 28m 54s26d 14m 57s7.2Gemini
Mar 10, 201707h 28m 58s26d 15m 30s7.3Gemini
Mar 11, 201707h 29m 05s26d 15m 57s7.3Gemini
Mar 12, 201707h 29m 13s26d 16m 18s7.3Gemini
Mar 13, 201707h 29m 24s26d 16m 34s7.3Gemini
Mar 14, 201707h 29m 36s26d 16m 45s7.3Gemini
Mar 15, 201707h 29m 50s26d 16m 50s7.3Gemini
Mar 16, 201707h 30m 06s26d 16m 49s7.4Gemini
Mar 17, 201707h 30m 24s26d 16m 44s7.4Gemini
Mar 18, 201707h 30m 44s26d 16m 33s7.4Gemini
Mar 19, 201707h 31m 05s26d 16m 17s7.4Gemini
Mar 20, 201707h 31m 29s26d 15m 55s7.4Gemini
Mar 21, 201707h 31m 53s26d 15m 29s7.4Gemini
Mar 22, 201707h 32m 20s26d 14m 57s7.5Gemini
Mar 23, 201707h 32m 49s26d 14m 20s7.5Gemini
Mar 24, 201707h 33m 19s26d 13m 39s7.5Gemini
Mar 25, 201707h 33m 51s26d 12m 52s7.5Gemini
Mar 26, 201707h 34m 24s26d 12m 00s7.5Gemini
Mar 27, 201707h 34m 59s26d 11m 03s7.5Gemini
Mar 28, 201707h 35m 36s26d 10m 02s7.6Gemini
Mar 29, 201707h 36m 14s26d 08m 56s7.6Gemini
Mar 30, 201707h 36m 54s26d 07m 44s7.6Gemini
Mar 31, 201707h 37m 35s26d 06m 28s7.6Gemini

Sky Highlights - March 2017

Comet
Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak now visible with binoculars as it heads towards perihelion

Mercury
Mercury heading towards greatest elongation east

Minor Planet
Vesta now visible with binoculars and small telescopes.

The Planets
This Month's Guide

Algol Minima
Algol eclipse dates and times for March 2017

Northern Hemisphere
Evening
West:- Venus (mag. -4.8 to -4.1 - first half of month), Mars (mag. +1.3 to +1.5), Uranus (mag. +5.9), Mercury (mag. -1.5 to -0.4 - second half of month)
Midnight
Southeast:- Jupiter (mag. -2.3 to -2.5)
Morning
Southwest:- Jupiter
Southeast:- Saturn (mag. +0.5)

Southern Hemisphere
Evening
West:- Venus (first half of month), Mars, Uranus
Midnight
North:- Jupiter
East:- Saturn
Morning
West:- Jupiter
Northeast:- Saturn
East:- Neptune (mag. +8.0 - second half of month)

Deep Sky
Naked eye / binoculars:-
Melotte 111 - Mel 111 - The Coma Star Cluster (Open Cluster)
Messier 44 - M44 - The Praesepe (Open Cluster)

Telescopes:-
Messier 67 - M67 - Open Cluster
Messier 51 - M51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy)
Messier 97 - M97 - The Owl Nebula (Planetary Nebula)
Messier 101 - M101 - The Pinwheel Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy)
Messier 65 – M65 – Spiral Galaxy
Messier 66 - M66 - Intermediate Spiral Galaxy
Messier 95 - M95 - Barred Spiral Galaxy
Messier 96 - M96 - Intermediate Spiral Galaxy
NGC 4244 - Spiral Galaxy
NGC 4565 - Needle Galaxy - Spiral Galaxy

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