Imaging 4 Vesta

As I write these words, I have been attempting to image 4 Vesta for about 2 and a half weeks. My schedule is one of rotating sleeplessness.

Now, tonight, dew point willing, I will have one hour to photograph 4 Vesta and confirm its position.

I have been close. I almost had it in this series of shots, below, taken on the morning of 21NOV20…

The three images to the right are each a composite of 9, 15″ exposures. That is I Leonis in the photos at far right, not I Leo. You can see from my calculation of 4 Vesta’s position, I was damn close. But, close only counts in horseshoes, an expression most Far West astronomers are all too familiar with. However, I was not daring enough in the frigid weather to spend another 20 minutes imaging my CMOS Nikon D-810.

4 Vesta is about Magnitude 8.2 right now, and the brightest of the visible asteroids in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It is in the middle of a star field of higher magnitude stars and NGC nebulae. One would think…”easy peasy.” Not so.

Reasons it is not easy, is that 4 Vesta rises after Leo in the early morning hours. Bad, because in our shrub steppe/desert environment next to the Columbia River, when the dew point is close to the temperature, fog ensues, and envelopes all. Even on otherwise clear nights.

The sparse field around 4 Vesta also means one must be confident in one’s calculation of position and build familiarity of the star field by numerous observations of the same.

If that were not enough, 4 Vesta does not follow the ecliptic nor the sidereal space frame. As Leo moves one way, 4 Vesta moves almost orthogonal, over a period of days. Like a strategist, looking at the night’s work, one must pick an hour to wake up, turn on, and re-position the telescope; checking the camera’s battery and image cards. then let the equipment equilibriate again. Moving the telescope through the now-familiar star field, and imaging a familiar star, like I Leonis. Then, the search begins again..

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