On March 20th Long Island, New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut, Ontario, and the island of Bermuda will be able to witness a rare astronomical occultation event. At around 2:06 a.m. Thursday morning the star Regulus will completely disappear from view for about 14 seconds as a 45 mile wide asteroid named Erigone will pass in front of it.
With Regulus being 4 million times farther away from us than the asteroid, many factors need to align perfectly for this event to take place. First Erigone must pass in front of the star. Once that happens the shadow of the asteroid must fall on Earth in an area where the sky is both clear and dark. Even if those factors align then here on Earth astronomers must pinpoint the exact path and speed of the asteroid. Right now they believe their data is on point.
If you want to see the occultation you’re in luck. Regulus is fairly easy to spot. It is a part of the constellation Leo and the sixth brightest star in the sky. To find the exact location of it you will have to make sure your body is facing the moon. Next you need to stretch your arms out horizontally to each side. Once you do this turn your head to the right and sight along your right arm. Regulus will then be directly above your right hand. If you’re still having trouble spotting it, just know that it is the brightest star in that direction.
Astronomers have been predicting the occultation of stars for 40 years and Regulus is the brightest star occulted above the United States. Experts say this is an once-in-a-lifetime viewing experience because the star can be seen with the naked eye. Usually you would need a telescope to witness such an event.
Regulus Occultation 2014 is the official Facebook page for the occultations. There you will get up-to-the-minute weather updates, information on the occultation Iphone App, and an exact map of the areas able to witness it.
Feature Image of Occultation Viewing Map Courtesy of Occultations.org