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Pallas: Huge asteroid visible from Earth

This week, the huge asteroid Pallas reaches opposition, being opposite to the sun in Earth's sky, making it a prime target for avid skywatchers with telescopes.

Image

This black-and-white image taken by the Hubble Telescope in 2007 shows the asteroid Pallas, which is thought to be the second-largest asteroid in our solar system.

NASA

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This week, the huge asteroid Pallas reaches opposition, being opposite to the sun in Earth's sky, making it a prime target for avid skywatchers with telescopes.

Asteroids are not as well behaved as planets, and their orbits are often far from the plane of the ecliptic. This is clearly the case with Pallas, because it reaches opposition in the unlikely constellation of Serpens Caput, very close to Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. This is a pretty circlet of stars just to the left of Arcturus in northern hemisphere skies.

To spot Pallas tonight, look for the brightest star, called either Alphecca or Gemma, in Corona Borealis. Pallas is an 8th magnitude object just south of this star. [How to spot Pallas.]

IN PICTURES: Asteroids

If you make a sketch of the star field with binoculars tonight and repeat this over the next few nights, you'll clearly see which "star" is moving: This is the best way to identify an asteroid. Alternatively, use planetarium software to make a chart of the area of Corona Borealis and identify Pallas from that. Binoculars or a small telescope are essential for spotting this faint object.

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