Find dwarf planet Ceres easily with binoculars

Dwarf planet Ceres has been brightening over recent weeks and you can now easily see it for yourself with binoculars or a small telescope. Here’s how to find Ceres.

The position of Ceres is indicated in this photo taken on the morning of 3 November, from Walmer, UK, as the dwarf planet grazed bright star Aldebaran. Image credit: Paul Sutherland
Another photo of the Hyades on the morning of 8 November shows how Ceres has moved further into the cluster. Image credit: Paul Sutherland

Ceres, which lies in the asteroid belt and was the first of these bodies to be discovered, is easy to locate because it lies in a particularly recognisable part of the sky.

Over the next few weeks, Ceres will track directly across the well known V-shaped pattern of the Hyades star cluster.

In early September, the dwarf planet was at magnitude 8.7, and it will gradually brighten to magnitude 7, which is more than four times brighter, in late November.

The Hyades, which is marked by the brilliant star Aldebaran, lies in the constellation of Taurus, which will be well placed in the evening sky for skywatchers. (Aldebaran is actually unrelated to the cluster, and just happens to lie in our line of sight between the cluster and Earth.)

The only trouble you might have in seeing Ceres is picking it out from the myriad of other stars that make up the Hyades, which lies about 153 light-years away from us.

Track of Ceres
Our chart shows the track of Ceres across the Hyades star cluster. Dates are shown in the format “month-day”. Positions are marked for 0h UT. Click to enlarge.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Ceres will reach Opposition on 26 November, 2021, when it will lie 263 million km away from Earth.

As we previously reported, the second asteroid to be discovered, Pallas, is also well placed in the evening sky around now and may be seen with binoculars.

Ceres in the Hyades
This image of Ceres in the Hyades star cluster was taken on the morning of 8 September, 2021, from Walmer, UK. Image credit: Paul Sutherland

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft made an extensive study of Ceres in recent years, following its earlier visit to Vesta. It recorded mysterious bright spots within a crater named Occator. But don’t expect to see it as anything more than a point of light through a backyard telescope.

Ceres was discovered on New Year’s Day, 1801, by a Sicilian monk, Giuseppe Piazzi, from the Palermo Observatory in Italy. At the time it was assumed to be a new planet. However, as more bodies were found in similar orbits in the following years, it was reclassified as an asteroid.

Then, in 2006, when the International Astronomical Union made the controversial decision to demote Pluto to the new rank of dwarf planet, Ceres was accorded a similar status.