Make a date with the moon on Saturday, March 4.
If you live in the United States and the weather cooperates, chances are good that you can watch a bright star called Aldebaran briefly disappear that evening.
What’s more, all you need are your naked eyes — no telescope or binoculars required (though they’d definitely help).
Most of the contiguous US at night and Hawaii during the day should be able to watch the astronomical event unfold. While the exact moment depends on your location, we’ve included a rough map and observation times below.
We first learned about this stellar occultation, as it’s called, from a story by David W. Dunham at Sky & Telescope.
While occultations of stars and planets are incredibly common, Dunham says “[i]t can’t get much better than this,” thanks to the phase of the moon and its lower brightness.
Aldebaran is typically the fourteenth-brightest star in the night sky and has an orange hue because it’s a red giant nearly 45 times as wide as the sun. (Billions of years in the future, the sun will balloon to roughly the same size and doom Earth in the process.)
“The orange star will appear to approach the Moon from the dark side, passing very close to the northern cusp,” according to an image posted by the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA).
Those who live along a “graze line” will see Aldebaran kiss the top of the moon instead of making the star entirely disappear.
The graze line will make a very thin track across parts of Washington state, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
North of the graze line, viewers won’t see the occultation. (If you live south of the US, the southern graze line of the occultation is shown in this IOTA map.)
Here’s a rough map of where the occultation will be visible:
And here are a few key locations and times for when Aldebaran will disappear and reappear from behind the moon, according to IOTA and Sky & Telescope:
- New York — disappears at 11:10 p.m. ET, reappears at 11:31 p.m. ET
- Washington DC — disappears at 11:04 p.m. ET, reappears at 11:39 p.m. ET
- Atlanta — disappears at 10:56 p.m. ET, reappears at 11:52 p.m. ET
- Miami — disappears at 11:03 p.m. ET, reappears at 12:02 a.m. ET (March 5)
- Chicago — disappears at 9:57 p.m. CT, reappears at 10:33 p.m. CT
- Austin — disappears at 9:44 p.m. CT, reappears at 10:52 p.m. CT
- Los Angeles — disappears at 7:08 p.m. PT, reappears at 8:27 p.m. PT
For more locations and other information about “Aldebaran’s disappearing act” on Saturday, read Dunham’s story at Sky & Telescope.
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