Asteroid Vesta Makes Closest Approach In 2 Decades: When To See The Massive Space Rock In The Night’s Sky

The brightest and second largest asteroid in the belt, Vesta is zooming so close to Earth that it will be visible to the naked eye.

Asteroid Vesta
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The brightest and second largest asteroid in the belt, Vesta is zooming so close to Earth that it will be visible to the naked eye.

While June was certainly filled with exciting astronomical events that treated stargazers to a memorable sight, the main event is still ongoing and will offer spectacular views of asteroid 4 Vesta, or Vesta for short.

As the Inquisitr previously reported, this month Vesta is zooming closer to our planet than it’s been in 20 years and is coming so near Earth that you can actually catch a glimpse of it in the night’s sky without the help of binoculars or telescopes.

Named after the Roman goddess of home and of family, Vesta is the second largest space rock in the Asteroid Belt, a vast disk of rocky debris orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter.

As Wide As Arizona

Second only to the icy dwarf planet Ceres in the belt, the giant asteroid is 326 miles (525 kilometers) wide — almost the same width as the entire state of Arizona notes Newsweek — and is currently about 106 million miles (170.5 million kilometers) from Earth.

According to the British news outlet the Express, Vesta has an estimated surface area of 800,000 square kilometers (or about 309,000 square miles), which makes it three times larger than the U.K. and about the surface area of Pakistan, in South Asia.

This ancient asteroid, shaped “within one to two million years of the birth of the solar system,” is so large that it accounts for nearly nine percent of the total mass of all asteroids, reveals NASA.

Its enormous size and close approach to our planet will make it visible to the naked eye up until July 16 or 17, which gives you another two weeks or so to take in the amazing view.

Aside from being the second largest asteroid, Vesta is also the brightest, thanks to its particularly reflective surface that makes it appear more luminous than any other asteroid.

Look For Vesta In The Ophiuchus Constellation

As seen from Earth by sky watchers in the northern hemisphere, the massive asteroid has spent most of June next to Mars and Saturn, appearing northwest of the Sagittarius constellation until June 28.

Starting today, Vesta will be moving closer to the Ophiuchus constellation (the “Serpent Bearer,” symbolized by a man clutching a snake) — sometimes called the 13th or forgotten constellation of the zodiac, reports EarthSky.

“Vesta should be visible to the unaided eye,” Robert Massey of the Royal Astronomical Society told Newsweek, noting that the asteroid will appear in the sky in both the northern and southern hemispheres, “but only as a point of light, and only in dark skies.”

While Vesta can be seen every night as a dim yellow dot shining at a magnitude of around 5.5, gazing at the asteroid through a telescope will grant you a more detailed view. You might even be able to see its numerous craters, the largest of which is called Rheasilvia.

This gigantic crater is about 314 miles (505 kilometers) wide and takes up 90 percent of Vesta’s diameter, being one of the largest craters in our solar system. At the heart of Rheasilvia crater lies a 13-mile-high peak that is among the tallest mountains in the known universe.

“This is the central peak of the Rheasilvia basin and is roughly 22 kilometers high — over twice as high as the tallest mountain on Earth, Mauna Kea, which rises roughly 10 kilometers from the basin of the Pacific Ocean floor — and nearing the height of the mammoth Martian volcano Olympus Mons,” notes the Express, citing the European Southern Observatory.

Don’t miss this great opportunity to watch Vesta shine in the sky or you’ll have to wait until after 2040 to see the massive asteroid zoom by our planet once again, advises Inverse.