Soon after 2:00 a.m. EDT next Thursday, March 20th, the light from the star Regulus will go dark for possibly up to 14 seconds when the asteroid known as Erigone is expected to hide its shine in an extremely rare asteroid-star occultation. This happening will be able to be seen by millions of people with the naked eye who are located in the northeastern part of the United States.
This type of occurrence, where there is one celestial object moving in front of another is basically an eclipse, explained NASA on its official webpage. The majority of people are familiar with the most common type of occultation which is a total solar eclipse. That is when the moon passes in front of the sun. Another fairly regular occultation happens when the moon moves in front of a planet.
The International Occultation Timing Association or IOTA gives outstanding instructions on how to find Regulus, as well as can answer any questions about occultation. IOTA also offers a free iPhone app so individuals can plan for the occultation if so interested. A link to that site is listed at the bottom of this article.
NASA explained that such asteroid occultations are fairly regular, but the majority of them are so faint that it takes both a telescope and a timepiece to see them. However, the event that is scheduled for Thursday is extremely uncommon. There have been just eight star occultations viewable without the help of a telescope inside the United States since the 1980’s. But none of those ever crossed such a highly populated area. This occultation of such a bright star is thought to be the first one in history that will be visible to so many people.
If one does not want to visit the IOTA website, and if the sky is clear out that morning, Regulus actually can be fairly easy for anyone to find. At about 2 a.m. or earlier, any individuals wanting to view the event need to go outside and turn toward the Moon. They next need to extend their arms straight out to their sides. Regulus will be right above their right hands, approximately as high as the Moon. It will be the shiniest star in that certain region.
This event is actually a space rock eclipse of a star. Astronomers like to use the word occultation for such events because it comes from the Latin word that means to “hide”. It is also so rare that most astronomers believe this might be the only chance in their lifetimes to get to see this type of occultation, one that is of a first magnitude star.
So be sure to be looking for it after 2:00 a.m. ET next Thursday, March 20th. That is when the light from one of the most brilliant stars in the sky will go dark for possibly up to 14 seconds as the asteroid known as Erigone is expected to cover up the shine from the star Regulus. This event will be able to be seen by millions of people who are located in the northeastern part of the United States.
By Kimberly Ruble