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A Huge Asteroid Is Now Visible To The Naked Eye In The Night Sky

Good news for stargazers. One of the largest asteroids in the entire known Solar System right now will be easily visible to the naked eye. It’s called Vesta. Sometimes it is classed as a protoplanet. Vesta is the second-largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.  Dwarf Planet Ceres is the largest one.

Sometimes, it’s bright enough to see with the naked eye, counting right now, as it just made its closest journey to Earth in two decades. Its previous close pass happened in May 2007, when it was a little bit further away.

As told by by Sky and Telescope, the object touched its closest point to Earth – known as opposition – on June 19, a distance of 170.6 million kilometers (106 million miles). Nonetheless, it should stay visible to the naked eye until July 16.

Vesta can be spotted near the constellation of Sagittarius in the southeast sky when viewed from the Northern Hemisphere. From the Southern Hemisphere, it appears higher in the sky. Its path will take it close to Saturn, so if you can spot the gas giant, then you should see the asteroid just to the east of the planet. Astronomy Now has a good guide on how to see it.

While you can see Vesta with the naked eye, you’ll get the best views with binoculars and a telescope. It’s quite impressive that it’s visible at all to the naked eye though, considering its distance and size – about 570 kilometers (355 miles) across.

In fact, Vesta actually reflects quite a lot of incoming sunlight – about 43 percent compared to the Moon at 12 percent – and astronomers aren’t quite sure why. It might be that the asteroid is protected by a magnetic field, keeping its surface pristine.

We did actually have a spacecraft go and visit Vesta, NASA’s Dawn probe, which arrived in July 2011 and left in September 2012. That spacecraft has now been orbiting Ceres since March 2015, where it’ll remain for the rest of its days.

But thanks to this close pass, you don’t need a fancy spacecraft to see Vesta for yourself. And if giant asteroids aren’t your thing, then make sure you give Saturn a glance. It’ll be making its closest pass of Earth tomorrow on June 27, so you should also get a good view of the ringed planet.

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