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Dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt, reaches opposition on January 31st. It will peak at magnitude +6.8, as it moves retrograde in Cancer. Bright stars Castor (α Gem - mag. +1.6) and Pollux (β Gem - mag. +1.1) in Gemini can be found about 20 degrees further west. Since Ceres travels quickly with respect to the "fixed" background stars, it can be tracked on a nightly basis. Although Ceres is too faint to be spotted with the naked eye, it's easily visible with binoculars and small telescopes. In addition, this opposition is very favourable as this dwarf planet peaks close to its maximum possible brightness. At opposition, it will be 1.602 AU (approx. 239.7 million kilometres or 148.9 million miles) distant from Earth.

Ceres as imaged by the NASA Dawn spacecraft (credit:- NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/Justin Cowart)

On January 1, 1801, Italian catholic priest and astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi discovered Ceres, originally believing it to be a comet. This new object, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, was initially classified as a planet and given its own planetary symbol. However when more objects, all small, were discovered in the same region of the Solar System, the general term "asteroid" was coined to describe them. Much later in 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) defined a new classification of dwarf planet, of which Ceres is now a member. Ceres has a diameter of 945 kilometres (590 miles).

Ceres will gradually fade in brightness after opposition, but will still remain visible with binoculars and small scopes over the coming few months. Positions of Ceres in the chart and table below are at 0 UT.

Ceres - January 15 to March 12, 2018 - Finder Chart (credit:- freestarcharts)

Ceres - January 15 to March 12, 2018 - Finder Chart - pdf format (credit:- freestarcharts)

Ceres Data Table

DateRA (J2000)DEC (J2000)Apparent Mag.Constellation
Jan 1509h 25m 58.0s28d 00m 02.0s7.1Leo
Jan 1609h 25m 16.1s28d 08m 23.6s7.1Leo
Jan 1709h 24m 32.7s28d 16m 43.9s7.0Leo
Jan 1809h 23m 48.0s28d 25m 02.5s7.0Leo
Jan 1909h 23m 02.0s28d 33m 18.7s7.0Leo
Jan 2009h 22m 14.7s28d 41m 32.1s7.0Cancer
Jan 2109h 21m 26.3s28d 49m 41.8s7.0Cancer
Jan 2209h 20m 36.8s28d 57m 47.6s7.0Cancer
Jan 2309h 19m 46.3s29d 05m 48.6s6.9Cancer
Jan 2409h 18m 54.8s29d 13m 44.5s6.9Cancer
Jan 2509h 18m 02.3s29d 21m 34.5s6.9Cancer
Jan 2609h 17m 09.1s29d 29m 18.3s6.9Cancer
Jan 2709h 16m 15.1s29d 36m 55.2s6.9Cancer
Jan 2809h 15m 20.4s29d 44m 24.8s6.9Cancer
Jan 2909h 14m 25.1s29d 51m 46.5s6.9Cancer
Jan 3009h 13m 29.2s29d 58m 59.9s6.9Cancer
Jan 3109h 12m 32.9s30d 06m 04.5s6.8Cancer
Feb 0109h 11m 36.1s30d 12m 59.9s6.8Cancer
Feb 0209h 10m 39.1s30d 19m 45.7s6.9Cancer
Feb 0309h 09m 41.8s30d 26m 21.3s6.9Cancer
Feb 0409h 08m 44.4s30d 32m 46.5s6.9Cancer
Feb 0509h 07m 46.9s30d 39m 00.7s6.9Cancer
Feb 0609h 06m 49.3s30d 45m 03.8s6.9Cancer
Feb 0709h 05m 51.9s30d 50m 55.3s6.9Cancer
Feb 0809h 04m 54.6s30d 56m 34.8s6.9Cancer
Feb 0909h 03m 57.5s31d 02m 02.1s6.9Cancer
Feb 1009h 03m 00.8s31d 07m 17.0s7.0Cancer
Feb 1109h 02m 04.5s31d 12m 19.1s7.0Cancer
Feb 1209h 01m 08.7s31d 17m 08.2s7.0Cancer
Feb 1309h 00m 13.5s31d 21m 44.2s7.0Cancer
Feb 1408h 59m 18.9s31d 26m 06.9s7.0Cancer
Feb 1508h 58m 25.1s31d 30m 16.0s7.0Cancer
Feb 1608h 57m 32.0s31d 34m 11.6s7.1Cancer
Feb 1708h 56m 39.9s31d 37m 53.5s7.1Cancer
Feb 1808h 55m 48.7s31d 41m 21.6s7.1Cancer
Feb 1908h 54m 58.6s31d 44m 36.0s7.1Cancer
Feb 2008h 54m 09.5s31d 47m 36.6s7.2Cancer
Feb 2108h 53m 21.7s31d 50m 23.3s7.2Cancer
Feb 2208h 52m 35.0s31d 52m 56.4s7.2Cancer
Feb 2308h 51m 49.7s31d 55m 15.7s7.2Cancer
Feb 2408h 51m 05.7s31d 57m 21.5s7.2Cancer
Feb 2508h 50m 23.1s31d 59m 13.7s7.3Cancer
Feb 2608h 49m 41.9s32d 00m 52.6s7.3Cancer
Feb 2708h 49m 02.3s32d 02m 18.2s7.3Cancer
Feb 2808h 48m 24.1s32d 03m 30.7s7.3Cancer
Mar 0108h 47m 47.6s32d 04m 30.3s7.3Cancer
Mar 0208h 47m 12.6s32d 05m 17.0s7.4Cancer
Mar 0308h 46m 39.3s32d 05m 51.2s7.4Cancer
Mar 0408h 46m 07.6s32d 06m 12.9s7.4Cancer
Mar 0508h 45m 37.6s32d 06m 22.3s7.4Cancer
Mar 0608h 45m 09.4s32d 06m 19.6s7.5Cancer
Mar 0708h 44m 42.8s32d 06m 05.0s7.5Cancer
Mar 0808h 44m 18.1s32d 05m 38.7s7.5Cancer
Mar 0908h 43m 55.1s32d 05m 00.9s7.5Cancer
Mar 1008h 43m 34.0s32d 04m 11.7s7.5Cancer
Mar 1108h 43m 14.6s32d 03m 11.5s7.5Cancer
Mar 1208h 42m 57.2s32d 02m 00.3s7.6Cancer
Mar 1308h 42m 41.5s32d 00m 38.4s7.6Cancer
Mar 1408h 42m 27.7s31d 59m 06.1s7.6Cancer