The first two asteroids to be discovered, Ceres and Pallas, can both be spotted with binoculars in the night sky this autumn. They should be fairly easy to locate too, since both lie near recognisable asterisms, or star patterns.
Ceres, which has been promoted to the status of Dwarf Planet, will spend the next few weeks crossing the V-shaped pattern of the Hyades star cluster as it heads for opposition in November, when it will shine at magnitude 7.
Pallas, which was discovered on 28 March, 1802, is currently close to a ring of stars in Pisces, known as the Circlet. It reaches Opposition on 11 September, when it will be around magnitude 8.5 and lie almost exactly on the Celestial Equator.
Over the coming weeks, Pallas will slowly head southwards from Pisces into Aquarius, crossing the boundary on the night of the 24/25 September.
It lies not very far in the sky from the planet Neptune, and they appear of similar brightness, though Neptune is very much larger and a lot further away.
A telescope will bring Pallas much more clearly into view, though you will never see more than a starlike point of light as it is only around 512 km in diameter and at a distance of more than 320 million km from Earth at Opposition.
Ceres, which was discovered on New Year’s Day, 1801, is similar in brightness to Pallas in early September, at magnitude 8.7. See it a little to the south of Aldebaran, the brilliant star at one end of the V-shaped Hyades cluster. (In fact Aldebaran is unrelated to the cluster and lies between us and the Hyades.)
You may find Ceres a little tricky to identify among the myriad of stars making up the Hyades cluster. However, over the next few weeks, it will become more than three times as bright as it is in early September.
That will make it much easier to spot when it reaches Opposition on 26 November, by which time it will have crossed to the northeast of the Hyades cluster.
Both Ceres and Pallas lie in the main belt of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter.