Friday, February 20, 2009

Science stuff (star gazing)

Sky watchers have a rare treat in store for the night of February 25.

In one case, they'll have to wait 1,000 years to view this event again. And in another case it's a one-time-only show.

The as-large-as-Texas asteroid Ceres 1 makes its closet approach to Earth, about 147 million miles from our home port. The last time it was this close was in 1857 and the next time it will make a close approach will be in another 1,000 years.

However, the official dwarf planet - with Pluto being one of two others - will glow at 7th magnitude: bright enough to be seen easily with binoculars.

The place to look is in the constellation Leo, and also opposite the Sun. This means it will rise at sunset and remain visible until dawn.

Ceres measures 590 miles in diameter and holds one-quarter of the mass of every object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, reports Astronomy magazine.

It is the only asteroid large where gravity has squashed it into a spherical shape.

Also on the Leo agenda is the coming and going of the comet Lulin which should glow around 5th magnitude. The comet will be seen with the use of a good set of binoculars in suburban settings and with the naked eye in dark sky settings.

On February 23rd the comet will sit alongside Saturn, also in Leo and brighter than any of its stars.

-Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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