Vesta’s looks positively groovy in this most recent photo taken by the orbiting Dawn spacecraft from 6,500 miles away. Dawn was traveling toward the nightside of the asteroid when the picture was taken, the reason why so much of the little world is in shadow. The large bump or mountain that you’ve seen in previous images is at center, while a portion of the towering rim of Vesta’s 285 mile diameter impact basin is seen at top at the 1 0′clock position.
I’ve got good news about Comet Elenin. Southern hemisphere observers report it’s brightened up to a healthy magnitude 10. This puts it within easy range of 6-inch telescopes. Michael Mattiazzo of Victoria, Australia reports magnitude 10.5 on July 21 with a moderately condensed coma 3.5 minutes across (30 minutes equal one full moon diameter). He was using an 8-inch reflecting telescope and magnification of 45x. David Seargent, another Australian amateur astronomer and discover of Comet Seargent in 1978, reports Elenin’s brightness at magnitude 9.9 using a 25 x 100 binocular telescope. After lagging in brightness for several months, Elenin’s back in the game. I’m still hopeful it will rise to naked eye brightness in October.
Since the comet has perked up in brightness, that means observers in the southern U.S. will now have a good shot at seeing it in the next few weeks with the moon gone from the sky. Comet Elenin is currently in the constellation Leo. For a sky watcher in say, Phoenix, Arizona., it hovers about 10 degrees above the western horizon an hour and a half after sunset. Observers further south will have even better viewing opportunities with the comet higher up still.
If you’re new to the sky and don’t have a telescope, don’t bother looking for Elenin yet. It’s still too faint. But if you’re versed in the constellations, have a good view of the western horizon, a 6-inch or larger scope and know how to use a detailed star map, it’s worth the hunt. Should you find it, please share your observation with us.