From “Vesta: Facts About the Brightest Asteroid”

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January 29, 2015
Nola Redd

Vesta with comparative asteroids

Vesta is the second most massive body in the asteroid belt, surpassed only by Ceres, which is classified as a dwarf planet. The brightest asteroid in the sky, Vesta is occasionally visible from Earth with the naked eye. It is the first asteroid to be visited by a spacecraft. The Dawn mission orbited Vesta in 2011, providing new insights into this rocky world.

NASA Dawn Spacecraft

Celestial Police

In 1596, while determining the elliptical shape of planetary orbits, Johannes Kepler came to believe that a planet should exist in the gap between Mars and Jupiter. Mathematical calculations by Johann Daniel Titius and Johann Elert Bode in 1772 — later known as the Titus-Bode law — seemed to support this prediction. In August 1798, a group known as the Celestial Police formed to search for this missing planet. Among these was German astronomer Heinrich Olbers. Olbers discovered the second known asteroid, Pallas. In a letter to a fellow astronomer, he put forth the first theory of asteroid origin. He wrote, “Could it be that Ceres and Pallas are just a pair of fragments … of a once greater planet which at one time occupied its proper place between Mars and Jupiter?”

Olbers reasoned that the fragments of such a planet would intersect at the point of the explosion, and again in the orbit directly opposite. He observed these two areas nightly, and on March 29, 1807, discovered Vesta, becoming the first person to discover two asteroids. After measuring several nights’ worth of observations, Olbers sent his calculations to mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss, who remarkably computed the orbit of Pallas in only 10 hours. As such, he was given the honor of naming the new body. He chose the name Vesta, goddess of the hearth, and sister to Ceres.

See the full article here.

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