A Spectacular Grazing Occultation for Aldebaran at Dawn

aldebaran moon
aldebaran moon
Aldebaran versus the crescent Moon from April 2017, post grazing occultation. Image credit and copyright: frankastro.

An unusual celestial spectacle unfolds for observers around the Great Lakes region next Tuesday at dawn. The Moon has been faithfully occulting (passing in front of) the bright star Aldebaran for every lunation now since January 29th, 2015. These split-second events have touched on nearly every farflung corner of the Earth. Now the United States and Canada get to see the penultimate event, as the waning crescent Moon occults Aldebaran one last time for North America.

Many news outlets are advertising this as the “last occultation of Aldebaran until 2033” which isn’t entirely true: the Moon will occult Aldebaran twice more worldwide, once on August 6th and September 3rd. Both of these events, however, involve a thin crescent Moon and occur over high Arctic climes, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they go unwitnessed by human eyes. The next cycle of Aldebaran occultations then resumes on August 18th, 2033.

July 10th occultation
The footprint for the July 10th occultation of Aldebaran by the Moon. Note that this is a daytime event across the Arctic, except for the tiny lower left corner of the footprint falling over the Great Lakes region at dawn. Credit: Occult 4.2.

Four stars brighter than +1st magnitude lie along the Moon’s celestial path in our current epoch: Antares in Scorpius, Regulus in Leo, Spica in Virgo, and Aldebaran in the eye of Taurus the Bull. Fun fact: this celestial situation is also slowly changing, partly because of the slow 26,000 year-plus long top-like wobble of the Earth’s axis known as the Precession of the Equinoxes, but also because of stellar proper motion, which is slowly bringing stars into and out of the Moon’s path over millennia. For example, until 117 BC, the Moon could also occult Pollux in the constellation of Gemini the Twins.

The circumstances for the July 10 event: The morning of July 10th sees the 11% illuminated, waning crescent Moon meet the +0.9 magnitude star Aldebaran under pre-dawn skies. When the Moon is waning, the bright limb leads the way, covering up the star during ingress and revealing once again during egress. The Moon moves its own half a degree (30 arcminute) diameter once every hour, and how long you’ll see Aldebaran covered up depends on your location. The geographic “sweet spot” for the occultation is eastern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa, northern Wisconsin, Lake Superior, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Ontario and northern Quebec… though the farther east you are, the brighter the skies will be, until the occultation begins under dark to twilight dawn skies and ends after sunrise.

Tales from the Graze Line

Folks based along a narrow path running for Iowa, across Wisconsin and Michigan into Ontario and Quebec are in for a very special treat, as Aldebaran just grazes in southern limb of the Moon. Instead of one single wink out, Aldebaran will flash multiple times, as it shines down through the jagged valleys along the limb of the Moon, an amazing sight to witness and catch on video.

Graze line
A close study of the southern graze line for the July 10th event. Credit: IOTA/Google Maps

Here are some times and circumstances for selected cities in the path of the occultation:

Location Ingress Egress Moon altitude Sun altitude Duration
Minneapolis 8:30 8:47 1deg/3deg -16deg/-14deg 17 minutes
Green Bay 8:39 8:40 5deg/5 deg -13deg <1 minute
Thunder Bay 8:32 8:54 5deg/8 deg -12deg/-9 deg 22 minutes
Fort Dodge, Iowa N/A 8:37 0.1 deg -18 deg <1 minute

Notes: all locations listed are in the Central (CDT) time zone (UT-5 for summer time). All times listed are in Universal Time (UT), with the Moon and Sun altitude listed for the beginning and end of the event, rounded to the nearest minute.

Not on the graze line? Well, the rest of us will see a very photogenic near miss on the morning of July 10th… and you might just be able to track Aldebaran up into the daytime sky (make sure you physically block the Sun out of view) if you’ve got clear blue, high contrast skies.

The Moon also occults several fainter stars across the V-shaped Hyades open star cluster around the same time worldwide, as well. One such notable event is the occultation of the +3.7 magnitude star Gamma Tauri for the United Kingdom:

Gamma tauri
The footprint for the July 10th Gamma Tauri event. Credit: Occult 4.2

You can follow the July 10th occultation using nothing more than a Mk-1 eyeball, as you can see both the star and the Moon… though binoculars or a telescope will definitely help, as Aldebaran will be tough to pick out against the bright limb of the Moon. Occultations—especially grazing events—really lend themselves to video astrophotography and are simple to capture through a telescope. Just be sure to balance the exposure setting so you can follow the star all the way up to the bright limb of the Moon.

moon graze
The grazing occultation of Aldebaran on July 10th. The direction of motion for the Moon spans one hour. Credit: Stellarium.

Occultations have inspired those who witnessed them back through pre-telescopic times. A Greek coin from 120 BC may depict an occultation of Jupiter by the Moon. Sultan Alp Arslan was said to have been inspired by a close pairing of Venus and the crescent Moon after the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 AD, adopting the celestial spectacle of the star and crescent which adorns several national flags today.

Also, keep an eye out for an optical illusion described in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (the poem, not the song by Iron Maiden inspired by the epic tale of the same name), where the protagonist witnesses:

“While clome above the Eastern Bar,

The horned Moon, with one bright Star,

Almost atween the tips.”

This illusion is often referred to as the Coleridge Effect.

Don’t miss this fine occultation of Aldebaran… it’ll be awhile before we see the Moon meet the star again.

-Extra credit: if anyone is planning a live stream of the occultation next Tuesday, let us know.

-The International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA) welcomes observations of any occultations worldwide… in the case of a lunar graze, observations can be used to map out the profile of mountains and valleys along the edge of the Moon.

Catch ‘The Great American Occultation’ of Aldebaran Saturday Night

The Moon nearing Aldebaran on February 5th, 2017. Image credit and copyright: Chris Lyons.

Ever watch the Moon cover up a star? There’s a great chance to see just such an event this coming weekend, when the waxing gibbous Moon occults (passes in front of)  the bright star Aldebaran for much of North America on Saturday night, March 4th.

Shining at magnitude +0.85, Aldebaran is the brightest star that lies along the Moon’s path in the current epoch, and is one of four +1st magnitude stars that the Moon can occult. The other three are Regulus, Antares and Spica. This is the 29th in a series of 49 occultations of Aldebaran worldwide spanning from January 29th, 2015 to September 3rd, 2018, meaning Aldebaran hides behind the Moon once every lunation as it crosses through the constellation Taurus and the Hyades open star cluster in 2017. Like eclipses belonging to the same saros cycle, successive occultations of bright stars shift westward by about 120 degrees westward longitude and slowly drift to the north. Europe saw last month’s occultation of Aldebaran, and Asia is up next month on April 1st.

The occultation footprint for Saturday night’s event. Credit: Occult 4.2 software.

All of the contiguous ‘lower 48 states’ except northern New England see Saturday night’s occultation, and under dark skies, to boot. It’s a close miss for Canada. Mexico, central America and the Caribbean will also witness the event under dark skies. Hawaii will see the event under daytime skies. We can attest that this is indeed possible using binocs or a telescope, as we caught Aldebaran near the daytime Moon during last month’s event.

Occultations give us a chance to see a split second magic act, in a Universe that often unfolds over eons and epochs. The motion you’re seeing is mostly that of the Moon, and to a lesser extent, that of the Earth as the star abruptly ‘winks out’.

Observers in northern tier states might witness an additional spectacle, as Aldebaran grazes the northern limb of the Moon. This can make for an unforgettable sight, as the star successively winks in at out from behind lunar peaks and valleys. The graze line for Saturday night follows the U.S./Canadian border from Washington state, Idaho and Montana, then transects North Dakota, Minnesota just below Duluth and northern Wisconsin, Michigan and New York and Connecticut. Brad Timerson over at the international Occultation Timing Association has a good page set up for the circumstances for the grazing event, and the IOTA has a page detailing ingress (start) and egress times for the event for specific cities.

The northern limit grazeline for Saturday night’s occultation. Credit: USAF/Wikimedia Commons/Dave Dickinson

You’ll be able to see the occultation of Aldebaran with the unaided eye, no telescope over binocular needed, though it will be fun to follow along with optics as well. The ingress along the leading dark limb of the Moon is always more dramatic, while reemergence on the bright limb is a more subtle affair.

The path of the occultation for select cities. Credit: Stellarium.

A simple video aimed afocally through a telescope eyepiece can easily capture the event. We like to run WWV radio on AM shortwave in the background while video recording so as to get a good time hack of the event on audio. Finally, set up early, watch those battery levels in the frigid March night, and be sure to balance out your exposure times to capture both Aldebaran and the dazzling limb of the Moon.

Can you see it? The Moon paired with Aldebaran on February 5th. Image credit and copyright: Lucca Ruggiero.

Anyone Live-casting the event? It’ll be a tough one low to the horizon here in central Florida, but a livestream would certainly be possible for folks westward with Aldebaran and the Moon high in the sky. Let us know of any planned webcasts, and we’ll promote accordingly.

The Moon also occults several other bright stars this week, leading up to an occultation of Regulus on March 10th favoring the southern Atlantic. Read all about occultations, eclipses, comets and more in our free e-book, 101 Astronomical Events for 2017 from Universe Today.

Don’t miss Saturday night’s stunning occultation, and let us know of your tales of astronomical tribulation and triumph.

-Send those astro-images in to Universe Today’s Flickr forum, and you might just see ’em featured here in a future article.

Photobomb: The Moon Occults Aldebaran Wednesday

How about that Hunter’s Supermoon this past weekend, huh? Follow that Moon, as it’s meeting up with the Hyades again this week, and occults (passes in front of) Aldebaran Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.

Here’s the lowdown on the event:

The 86% illuminated waning gibbous Moon occults the +0.9 magnitude star Aldebaran across North America, the Northern Atlantic and Europe. The Moon is three days past Full during the event. Both are located 136 degrees west of the Sun at the time of the event. The central time of conjunction is ~6:40 Universal Time (UT). The event occurs during the daylight hours over western Europe and northwestern Africa and under darkness for southeastern North America, including the eastern United States and Mexico. The Moon will next occult Aldebaran on November 15th, 2016. This is occultation 24 in the current series of 49 running from January 29th, 2015 to September 3rd 2018.

The occultation of Aldebaran by the Moon as seen from London on December 23rd, 2015. Image credit and copyright: Roger Hutchinson.
The occultation of Aldebaran by the Moon as seen from London on December 23rd, 2015. Image credit and copyright: Roger Hutchinson.

The graze line is of particular interest during this event. We’re talking about the very edge of the footprint of the Moon’s ‘shadow’ cast by Aldebaran, running through Canada and bisecting the United States. Observers based along this line could see a spectacular ‘grazing occultation’ of Aldebaran by the Moon. We usually think of the limb of the Moon as a smooth curve, but it’s actually jagged. What you may see is Aldebaran wink in and out as light shines down those lunar valleys and is alternately blocked out behind peaks and crater rims. This is an unforgettable sight, and makes for great video. A record of a grazing occultation by multiple observers can also be used to create a profile of the lunar limb. That light from Aldebaran took 65 years to get here, only to be blocked by our Moon at the very last second.

The occultation footpring for tonight's event. The solid lines denote where the occultation occurs under dark night time skies, while the blue lines denote twilight and the broken lines describe where the event occurs in the daytime. Image credit: Occult 4.2.
The occultation footprint for tonight’s event. The solid lines denote where the occultation occurs under dark nighttime skies, while the blue lines denote twilight, and the broken lines describe where the event occurs in the daytime. Image credit: Occult 4.2.

And observers (myself one of them) based in Europe shouldn’t count themselves out. Like brighter planets, you can spy a +1 magnitude star such as Aldebaran near the daytime Moon using binoculars or a telescope… if, of course, you have a high contrast deep blue sky and know exactly where to look for it. The International Occultation Timing Association has a page for the event with a complete list of ingress and egress times for key cities on three continents in the path. We’ll be watching the Wednesday event – clear skies willing — from our present basecamp in the Andalusian foothills just outside of Jimena de la Frontera, Spain.

The northern graze line for tonight's occultation. Note that several major cities lie along the crucial path. Image credit: Dave Dickinson.
The northern graze line for tonight’s occultation. Note that several major cities lie along the crucial path. Image credit: Dave Dickinson.

During our current epoch, the Moon can only occult four +1st magnitude stars: Regulus, Spica, Antares and Aldebaran. The slow motion movement of the Moon, the Earth and the background stars make this prestigious A-list change over time: until about two millennia ago, you could also count the bright star Pollux in Gemini among them.

In the current century, (2001-2100 AD) the Moon occults Aldebaran 247 times, topped only by Antares (386 times) and barely beating out Spica (220 times).

Timing an occultation is fun and as easy as shooting video of the Moon through a telescope at the appointed time of ingress or egress. Practice on framing the dazzling Moon first well in advance — probably the toughest part is getting the exposure of the bright limb stopped down enough to still see and image the star. We find that shooting anywhere from 1/100th to 1/500th frame rate for a gibbous Moon is about right. Don’t be afraid to crank up the magnification a bit, so you can place the bulk of the Moon out of view. Also, catching occultations of stars and planets during waning Moon phases are more challenging than waxing, as the star will ingress behind the bright leading limb and later reappear behind the dark trailing limb (waxing is vice versa).

Observing: Running an audible time hack in the background such as WWV radio out of Fort Collins, Colorado can provide a precise record of the occultation.

But wait, there’s more. When the Moon occults Aldebaran, its also crossing the background V-shaped open star cluster known as the Hyades. Worldwide the waning gibbous Moon also occults Gamma, 51, and Theta^1 and Theta^2, SAO 93975, and 119 Tauri. Chances are, there’s an occultation for YOU to catch this week, regardless of your location.

Want more? Well, the Moon continues to occult Aldebaran every lunation through 2017, and will also start a cycle of passes in front of Regulus on December 18th. In fact, the next occultation of Aldebaran on November 15th favors central Asia, and the event two lunations from now on December 13th brings the path back around the North America.

A great close out for 2016, for sure. Don’t miss this week’s occultation!

Occultation Palooza: The Moon Covers Aldebaran and More

Aldebaran

This week, we thought we’d try an experiment for tonight’s occultation of Aldebaran by the Moon. As mentioned, we’re expanding the yearly guide for astronomical events for the year in 2017. We’ve done this guide in various iterations since 2009, starting on Astroguyz and then over to Universe Today, and it has grown from a simple Top 10 list, to a full scale preview of what’s on tap for the following year.

You, the reader, have made this guide grow over the years, as we incorporate feedback we’ve received.

Anyhow, we thought we’d lay out this week’s main astro-event in a fashion similar to what we have planned for the guide: each of the top 101 events will have a one page entry (two pages for the top 10 events) with a related graphic, fun facts, etc.

So in guide format, tonight’s occultation of Aldebaran would break down like this:

Wednesday, September 21st: The Moon Occults Aldebaran

The occultation footprint of tonight's Aldebaran event.
The occultation footprint of tonight’s Aldebaran event.

Image credit Occult 4.2

The 67% illuminated waning gibbous Moon occults the +0.9 magnitude star Aldebaran. The Moon is two days prior to Last Quarter phase during the event. Both are located 109 degrees west of the Sun at the time of the event. The central time of conjunction is 22:37 Universal Time (UT). The event occurs during the daylight hours over southeast Asia, China, Japan and the northern Philippines and under darkness for India, Pakistan and the Arabian peninsula and the Horn of Africa. The Moon will next occult Aldebaran on October 19th. This is occultation 23 in the current series of 49 running from January 29th 2015 to September 3rd, 2018. This is one of the more central occultations of Aldebaran by the Moon for 2016.

india-view

The view from India tonight, just before the occultation begins. Image credit: Stellarium

Fun Fact-In the current century, (2001-2100 AD) the Moon occults Aldebaran 247 times, topped only by Antares (386 times) and barely beating out Spica (220 times).

Or maybe, another fun fact could be: A frequent setting for science fiction sagas, Aldebaran is now also often confused in popular culture with Alderaan, Princess Leia’s late homeworld from the Star Wars saga.

Like it? Thoughts, suggestions, complaints?

Now for the Wow! Factor for tonight’s occultation. Aldebaran is 65 light years distant, meaning the light we’re seeing left the star in 1951 before getting photobombed by the Moon just over one second before reaching the Earth.

There are also lots of other occultations of fainter stars worldwide over the next 24 hours, as the Moon crosses the Hyades.

And follow that Moon, as a series of 20 occultations of the bright star Regulus during every lunation begins later this year on December 18th.

Gadi Eidelheit managed to catch the March 14th, 2016 daytime occultation of Aldebaran from Israel:

And also in the ‘Moon passing in front of things’ department, here’s a noble attempt at capturing a difficult occultation of Neptune by the Moon last week on September 15th, courtesy of Veijo Timonen based in Hämeenlinna Finland:

Lets see, that’s a +8th magnitude planet next to a brilliant -13th magnitude Moon, one million (15 magnitudes) times brighter… it’s amazing you can see Neptune at all!

Last item: tomorrow marks the September (southward) equinox, ushering in the start of astronomical fall in the northern hemisphere, and the beginning of Spring in the southern. The precise minute of equinoctial crossing is 14:21 UT. In the 21st century, the September equinox can fall anywhere from September 21st to September 23rd. Bob King has a great recent write-up on the equinox and the Moon.

Here's EVERY occultation of Aldebaran from 2015 through 2018. (Click to enlarge) Credit: Occult 4.2.
Here’s EVERY occultation of Aldebaran from 2015 through 2018. (Click to enlarge) Credit: Occult 4.2.

Don’t miss tonight’s passage of Aldebaran through the Hyades, and there’s lots more where that came from headed into 2017!

See a Wonderful Aldebaran Occultation with a Spectacular Twist

This map shows the 23% illuminated crescent Moon from the central U.S. around 10:00 UT Friday morning. Observers who begin observing earlier may also see stars in the Hyades cluster occulted. Credit: Stellarium
This map shows the 23% illuminated crescent Moon from the central U.S. around 10:00 UT Friday morning. Observers who start observing earlier may also see stars in the Hyades cluster occulted. Credit: Stellarium

We’re in for a celestial show from two of the sky’s glitterati this week. On Friday morning July 29 around 10:00 UT (5 a.m. CDT), the crescent Moon will occult the star Aldebaran from the eastern and southern U.S. south of a line from Toledo, Ohio through St. Louis, Tulsa and El Paso, Texas. North of that line, the Moon will slide just south of the star in a spectacular conjunction. But the real action lies within a half-mile of either side of the line, where lucky observers will see a grazing occultation.

Use this map to help you plan your occultation adventure. Much of North and South America will see a wonderful conjunction, while many areas will witness the occultation. If you can drive to the graze line, do it! Credit: David Dunham
Use this map to help you plan your occultation adventure. Much of North and South America will see a wonderful conjunction, while many areas will witness the occultation. If you can drive to the graze line, do it! Credit: David Dunham

As the Moon’s orbital motion carries it eastward at the rate of one lunar diameter per hour, Aldebaran will appear to approach the sunlit northern cusp and then scrape along the Moon’s northern limb. You’ll need binoculars or a small telescope to see the initial approach, but once star reaches the semi-dark, earthlit portion of the Moon, the graze will be visible with the naked eye.

This diagram shows the the grazing path of Aldebaran. As the Moon moves east, the star will appear to move to the right or west. Credit: David Dunham
This diagram shows the the grazing path of Aldebaran. As the Moon moves east, the star will appear to move to the right or west. Be sure not to miss it — the entire grazing event lasts just 3 minutes. Credit: David Dunham

The edge or limb of the Moon appears smooth to the eye, but it’s rife with polar mountain peaks. As Aldebaran creeps along the craggy limb, it will repeatedly flash in and out of view as peaks and cliffs momentarily block it from sight. And here’s the truly amazing thing. Observers along the western section of the graze line, where the event takes place in fairly dark sky, can watch the star blink in and out of view without optical aid when it reaches the dark part of the lunar disk. Wow!

Aldebaran's large size means it won't disappear instantaneously when it's covered either by the lunar limb during occultation or by mountains along the grazing path. Credit: Wikipedia
Aldebaran’s large size means it won’t disappear instantaneously when it’s covered either by the lunar limb during occultation or by mountains along the grazing path. Credit: Wikipedia

Aldebaran is no small star. An orange giant 67 light years from Earth, it’s 44 times the diameter of the Sun. That means that sometimes only a part of the star at a time will covered at a time in some cases, so the length of the flashes will vary. According to David Dunham, president of the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA), Aldebaran will disappear for one-tenth of a second up to a second as the Moon rolls east, allowing some observers to sense the size of the star. Wow x 100!

Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus the Bull hangs near the edge of the moon two minutes before it was covered up. The star was easily visible through the telescope. Credit: Bob King
Aldebaran hangs near the edge of the moon two minutes before it was occulted last October in this photo taken with a smartphone. The star was easily visible through the telescope. Credit: Bob King

Skywatchers further east along the graze line and in other areas where the occultation / conjunction takes place after sunrise shouldn’t pass up the chance to see the event. During last October’s occultation of Aldebaran, I was able to see and photograph the star in my 10-inch scope in daylight no problem. The moon will be closer to the Sun this time around, but give it try anyway. This is the best grazing occultation of Aldebaran visible from North America in the current 4-year series.

For the many who live either north or south of the graze line, the views will still be fantastic. You’ll either see an occultation and subsequent reappearance of the star at the dark limb … or a fine conjunction. The forecast looks good for my city, so I plan on heading out to watch an orange giant meet the skinny Moon. I wish you clear skies and happy shooting!

For more information about the event including detailed weather forecasts and grazing maps, check out the IOTA’s public announcement pageClick here for Universal Times for the disappearance and reappearance of the star for over 1,000 cities.

Weekly Space Hangout – Apr. 8, 2016: Space News Roundup

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain)

Guests:

Kimberly Cartier (@AstroKimCartier )
Morgan Rehnberg (MorganRehnberg.com / @MorganRehnberg )
Dave Dickinson (www.astroguyz.com / @astroguyz)

Their stories this week:

Blue Origin, take three! (And a SpaceX launch today)

Japanese X-ray satellite

NASA Announces new planet hunting instrument

Weekend Occultations

US Navy Resumes Celestial Navigation Training

What Hit Jupiter?

We’ve had an abundance of news stories for the past few months, and not enough time to get to them all. So we’ve started a new system. Instead of adding all of the stories to the spreadsheet each week, we are now using a tool called Trello to submit and vote on stories we would like to see covered each week, and then Fraser will be selecting the stories from there. Here is the link to the Trello WSH page (http://bit.ly/WSHVote), which you can see without logging in. If you’d like to vote, just create a login and help us decide what to cover!

We record the Weekly Space Hangout every Friday at 12:00 pm Pacific / 3:00 pm Eastern. You can watch us live on Google+, Universe Today, or the Universe Today YouTube page.

You can also join in the discussion between episodes over at our Weekly Space Hangout Crew group in G+!

Weekly Space Hangout – Jan. 22, 2016: Dr. Stuart Robbins

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain)

Special Guest: Dr. Stuart Robbins, Research Scientist at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI); Mars Impact Craters, Science Lead on Moon Mappers and Mercury Mappers.

Guests:
Morgan Rehnberg (cosmicchatter.org / @MorganRehnberg )
Kimberly Cartier (@AstroKimCartier )
Dave Dickinson (@astroguyz / www.astroguyz.com)
Jolene Creighton (@futurism / fromquarkstoquasars.com)
Pamela Gay (cosmoquest.org / @cosmoquestx / @starstryder)
Brian Koberlein (@briankoberlein / briankoberlein.com)
Continue reading “Weekly Space Hangout – Jan. 22, 2016: Dr. Stuart Robbins”