Find dwarf planet Ceres easily with binoculars

Dwarf planet Ceres is currently at its brightest this year. You can find Ceres easily with binoculars or a small telescope.

This chart shows the track that Ceres will follow over the next few weeks. Positions are marked at five-day intervals, and dated at 10-day intervals, in the format “month-day”. Chart by Skymania, using Skychart

Ceres, which lies in the asteroid belt and was the first of these bodies to be discovered, reached opposition today, May 29, 2019.

It can be seen shining at magnitude 7 in the constellation of Scorpius. This far southerly declination means that it will be low in the sky if live at mid northern latitudes, such as much of the United States or Europe.

But it will be higher in the sky and so less obscured by low cloud of haze for anyone living in the southern hemisphere, such as Australia, New Zealand and southern Africa.

Now is the best time anywhere this year to find dwarf planet Ceres with binoculars. It will be visible for much of the night and the Moon’s waning phase means you will be able to look for it in a darker sky.

Over the next few weeks, Ceres will gradually fade, reaching magnitude 8 by mid-July and magnitude 9 in September. So now is the best time to get out your binoculars or telescopes to find it.

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 December 31, 1800, 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.

Here’s what you can see in the night sky this month.

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A more detailed chart showing the track of Ceres.
A detailed image of Ceres produced from NASA’s Dawn data, showing its brightest feature in the Occator Crater. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA