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How to See That Giant Asteroid In the Night Sky and Impress Your Kids

Vesta hasn't been this close to Earth in two decades.


Usually, when people think of an enormous asteroid zipping around even remotely close to Earth it conjures up Armageddon style images about the likely end of the world. But Vesta, one of the largest asteroids in our solar system is currently making a pass by the planet and will be visible from the surface until July 16 of this year. And considering how rare this sort of event is, parents are definitely going to want to check out that giant-ass asteroid with their kids.

Vesta isn’t typically visible with the naked eye, but given its trajectory and sheer size (Vesta has about the same surface area as Pakistan), people will finally be able to catch a glimpse of it for the first time since May 2007. For those not sold on Vesta’s significance, consider the fact that it’s currently classified as a protoplanet meaning that astronomers think that it’s slowly on the path towards planethood.

While Vesta is located in an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, to people in the southern hemisphere, Vesta will appear to be a tad bit higher in the sky somewhere near Saturn. And people in Earth’s northern hemisphere can see it near the constellation of Sagittarius in the southeast sky.

Trying to spot the Sagittarius constellation can be surprisingly difficult because while centaurs are unquestionably cool creatures, finding that shape in the stars really difficult, especially for kids. But for people wanting to see Vesta, they should probably look southward for the “teapot of Sagittarius.” This cluster of stars makes up the western half of Sagittarius and is aptly shaped like, you guessed it, a teapot. It’s easier to make out and Vesta should be right there.

Considering that Vesta hasn’t been this close to earth in over a decade, parents really shouldn’t miss out on this chance to see an asteroid in all its glory. NASA set a probe to Vesta in 2011 which left the asteroid in 2012 in order to orbit Ceres, the dwarf planet between Jupiter and Mars. And don’t worry about not being able to spot it, as Vesta actually reflects 31 percent more sunlight than the moon.