Vesta: Asteroid the Width of Arizona Makes Close Approach to Earth—and It's Visible with the Naked Eye

A massive asteroid about the width of Arizona, currently appears so bright in the night sky that it’s possible to see it with the naked eye, according to astronomers.

The rocky object, known as 4 Vesta, or simply Vesta, has a diameter of around 326 miles and is the second most massive body in the main asteroid belt—a vast disc of material that orbits the Sun between the paths of Mars and Jupiter.

Vesta, which is named after the goddess of the home and family in Roman mythology, has a particularly reflective surface that makes it appear brighter than any other asteroid.

Currently, Vesta will appear particularly bright as it comes closer to Earth than it has in 20 years (at present it is about 106 million miles from Earth). Fortunately, there is no chance it will strike our planet.

“Vesta should be visible to the unaided eye,” Robert Massey, from the Royal Astronomical Society, told Newsweek.

Stargazers will be able to view it in both the northern and southern hemispheres until about July 16 or 17 “but only as a point of light, and only in dark skies,” Massey said. For optimum viewing, binoculars or telescopes are recommended.

Vesta will appear near the constellation Sagittarius until June 28, after which it will move into the vicinity of the constellation Ophiuchus.

The asteorid is so large, that it accounts for nearly 9 percent of the total mass of all asteroids in the asteroid belt, with only the dwarf planet Ceres being more massive, according to NASA.

685735main_pia15678-43_full A view of Vesta taken by Nasa's Dawn spacecraft. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCAL/MPS/DLR/IDA

The slightly oval-shaped body is dotted with craters formed by collisions with other objects, which occurred during its formative years.

The largest of these, known as the Rheasilvia crater, is equivalent to 90 percent of the asteroid’s total diameter and is one of the largest craters in the Solar System. Furthermore, the peak in the center of the crater is about 13 miles high making it one of the tallest mountains known to humans.

Vesta was discovered by German Astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers in 1807—at which point it was only the fourth asteroid ever to be discovered. It has recently been explored by the NASA Dawn mission, which touched down on the rocky world in 2012.

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