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Asteroid To Occult Star Regulus on March 20, 2014

We in New York State must be content to wait until April 8, 2024, to watch a total eclipse of the Sun in our part of the world. The New Moon will cover over the solar disk for about 3.5 minutes on that date. In the relatively near future, however, New York State presents the best spot in the United States for watching the total eclipse of a much more distant sun, the star Regulus, in the early morning hours on March 20, 2014! (See map below.)

Yes, if you live along the central portion of the eclipse path, you can watch the star Regulus blink out of view, as the asteroid 163 Erigone, at some 110 million miles away, occults - covers over - a star that's some 79 light-years distant. In New York State - and across the border, at Kingston, Ontario - simply remember to look for the occultation to take place sometime between 2:06 to 2:08 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on March 20, 2014. The maximum duration will be 14 seconds from the center of the 67-mile wide occultation path. For more information on the times of of Regulus' disappearance from Bermuda to New York City to northern Canada, click here.

Image credit on right: All the Sky

Use the Big Dipper to locate Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo the Lion. Draw a line southward through the pointer stars of the Big Dipper to locate Leo every time, as depicted on the Big Dipper chart. Regulus and the constellation Leo are relatively easy to recognize, because Regulus dots a backward question mark of stars called The Sickle.

At nightfall in March, the Big Dipper stands on its handle in the northeast, and Leo appears in the east, to the right of the Big Dipper. The constellation Leo swings high in the south around midnight and moves into the southwest sky by 2 a.m. EDT. Although all the stars move westward throughout the night, the stars stayed fixed relative to one another, so you can always depend on the Big Dipper to guide you to Regulus. Click here for another diagram or two.

The above chart shows the occultation path for March 20, 2014. For information galore, go to the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA), or click on this Google Interactive Map

Best of all, no special equipment is necessary as this occultation will be clearly visible to the unaided eye. This could be the finest occultation of a 1st-magnitude star by an asteroid in your lifetime. Although you won't see the asteroid itself, you will see Regulus disappear behind it and then reappear again - given a clear sky. In New York State, watch for the asteroid 163 Erigone to occult the star Regulus sometime between 2:06 to 2:08 a.m. EDT on March 20, 2014.

copyright 2014 by Bruce McClure

February 2014 Feature * April 2014 Feature