SkyWatcher Alert: Pleiades Occultation on April 8

Moon and M44 by John CudworthSure. For those of us who hang around the night sky, we know the Pleiades and the Moon frequently venture near each other during the course of a year, but it’s much less common for the Moon to be in a crescent phase when they visit. Because the light of the nearby Moon often overpowers the cool, blue star cluster M45, SkyWatchers rarely have the opportunity to see the Moon sedately cover its stars. Not this time…

On Tuesday, April 8, SkyWatchers located in eastern Canada and the northeastern United States will enjoy an occultation event where the Moon will quietly cover up one – or several – of the Pleiades star cluster members. The event will begin around 9:45 pm EDT, so be ready! If you live in eastern Ontario, you’re in the best position as the pair will be well placed and the sky fully dark. As you move to the eastern United States, the Moon will begin to set while the occultations are occurring. For the southern United States, the Moon will graze by just to the north and the further you go west, the event will be in progress for some and during the daylight for the West Coast.

So how do you watch? The leading limb of the Moon will be lit by earthshine, but it will only add to the beauty. Using just your eyes will pick out the fact that it’s covering bright stars, but even the smallest binoculars will allow you to witness the event. By using a telescope, you may very well be treated to a star that winks in and out momentarily as it passes behind a lunar mountain range, or disappears abruptly behind the limb.

For photographers, this is a wonderful opportunity to capture a scenic view. But, did you know that even some of the most common equipment is capable of recording the event as well? I’ve used my camcorder on many occasions. By simply holding it to the eyepiece of a telescope, it’s easy to take “home movies” of the event as it happens. Be sure to practice a little in advance and remember the focus you see on the camcorder screen is the focus you will see in the end product.

Most importantly, be patient. At first glance, it will seem like it takes a very long time before the Moon’s limb edge reaches the Pleiades stars, but the actual occultation occurs in the blink of an eye. No matter where you live, the Moon and the Pleiades will be pleasingly close on the evening of April 8, and it’s a celestial event that’s sure to inspire.

Wishing you clear skies…

One Reply to “SkyWatcher Alert: Pleiades Occultation on April 8”

  1. Hmm, I’ll have to see if we’re going to have a clear sky in Buffalo tonight. Pretty sunny out now @ 2:15pm.

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