See Ceres cross the Hyades star cluster

Dwarf planet Ceres is bright enough to be seen easily with binoculars in November as it crosses the familiar star cluster of the Hyades. At the start of the month it lies close to Aldebaran (α Tauri).

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Ceres is indicated by tick marks, close to the bright star Aldebaran, in this photo taken from Walmer, Kent, on the morning of 3 November. Image credit: Paul Sutherland

(This article is an update – Pallas has travelled southwards and faded considerably.)

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.

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The track of Ceres over the coming weeks. Dates are shown in the format month-day, for 0h UT. Chart by Skymania.com

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.

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Pallas photographed on the morning of 6 September from Walmer, Kent, by Paul Sutherland

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.

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A wide-angle view of the track of Pallas over the coming weeks. Start and end dates are in the format month-day, for 0h UT. Chart by Skymania.com

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.)

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A detailed rack for Pallas as it moves from Pisces into Aquarius. Dates are indicated in the format month-day, for 0h UT. Chart by Skymania.com

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.

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Ceres photographed by Paul Sutherland on the morning of 8 September from Walmer, Kent.