Lights Out: A Fine Occultation of Aldebaran Spans the Atlantic

They braved the cold, cursed the clouds, wrestled with frozen telescope focusers and more, as dedicated astros worked to catch the first occultation of the bright star Aldebaran for 2016 by the waxing gibbous Moon.

The event went down last night into the wee hours of the morning, and was visible across North America into western Europe and the United Kingdom. Continue reading “Lights Out: A Fine Occultation of Aldebaran Spans the Atlantic”

Watch the Moon Occult Aldebaran This Weekend

How about that perigee Full Moon this past weekend? Thus begins ‘Supermoon season’ for 2015, as this month’s Full Moon occurs even closer to perigee — less than an hour apart, in fact — on September 28th, with the final total lunar eclipse of the ongoing tetrad to boot. Keep an eye on Luna this week, as it crosses into the early AM sky for several key dates with destiny just prior to the start of the second and final eclipse season for 2015.

The big event later this week is a passage of the waning gibbous Moon through the Hyades open cluster on the morning of Saturday, September 5th, climaxing with a dramatic occultation of the bright star Aldebaran on the same morning. This is part of a series of 49 ongoing occultations of Aldebaran by the Moon, one for each lunation extending out to September 2018.

Image credit:
The visibility footprint for the September 5th occultation of Aldebaran by the Moon. Image credit: Occult 4.1

This weekend’s event will occur at moonrise under nighttime skies for the northeastern United States and the Canadian Maritimes, and near dawn and under daytime skies for observers in Western Europe and Northern Africa eastward. We observed an occultation of Aldebaran by the Moon under daytime skies from Alaska back in the late 1990s, and can attest that the star is indeed visible near the limb of the Moon in binoculars. A good deep blue sky is key to spotting +1 magnitude Aldebaran in the daytime.

London 711 AM
The view from London UK at 7:11 AM local. Image Credit: Starry Night Education software

During waning phase, the bright edge of the Moon is always leading, meaning Aldebaran will ingress (wink out) on the bright limb of the 52% illuminated Moon, and egress (reappear) along its dark limb.

Here are some key times for ingress/egress by location (all times quoted are local and incorporate daylight saving/summer time):

Washington D.C.

Moonrise: 11:53 PM

Ingress: N/A (before Moonrise)

Egress: 12:38 AM (altitude = 8 degrees)

Boston

Moonrise: 11:22 PM

Ingress 11:57 PM (altitude = 6 degrees)

Egress: 12:41 AM (altitude = 14 degrees)

Gander, Newfoundland

Moonrise: 11:26 PM

Ingress: 1:37 AM (altitude = 20 degrees)

Egress: 2:26 AM (altitude = 28 degrees)

London

Moonrise: 11:04 PM

Ingress: 5:50 AM (altitude = 53 degrees)

Sunrise: 6:18 AM

Egress: 7:07 AM (altitude = 54 degrees)

Paris

Moonrise: 12:02 AM

Ingress: 6:53 AM (altitude = 56 degrees)

Sunrise: 7:12 AM

Egress: 8:10 AM (altitude = 57 degrees)

Occultations of bright stars by the Moon are one of the few times besides a solar or lunar eclipse when you can actually discern the one degree per every two and half hours orbital motion of the Moon in real time. The Moon moves just a little more than its own apparent diameter as seen from the Earth every hour. This also sets us up for four more fine occultations of Aldebaran by the Moon alternating between Europe and North America on October 2nd, October 29th, November 26th, and December 23rd.

Image credit:
The final four occultations of Aldebaran by the Moon for 2015.  Image credit: Occult 4.1

The bright stars Antares, Spica and Regulus also lie along the path of the Moon, which is inclined about five degrees relative to the ecliptic. A series of occultations of Regulus by the Moon begins in late 2016.

Fun fact: The Moon used to occult the bright star Pollux in the constellation Gemini until about 2100 years ago in 117 BC. The 26,000 year cycle known as the Precession of the Equinoxes has since carried the star out of the Moon’s path.

Observations of occultations — especially dramatic grazes spied right from the edge of the path — can be used to construct a profile of the lunar limb. A step-wise ‘wink out’ of a star during an occultation can also betray the existence of a close binary.

Recording an occultation of a star by the Moon is as easy as running video while shooting the Moon. The dark limb egress of Aldebaran will be much easier to record during the September 5th event than the ingress of the star against the bright limb. I typically run video with a DLSR directly coupled to a Celestron 8” SCT telescope, with WWV radio running in the background for a precise audio timing of the event. Remember, the Moon will also be transiting the Hyades star cluster as well, covering and uncovering many fainter stars for observers worldwide around the same time frame.

Sept 5 5UT
The Last Quarter Moon versus Aldebaran and the Hyades on September 5th at ~5:00 UT. Image credit: Stellarium

Now for the ‘wow’ factor. The Moon is about 240,000 miles (400,000 km), or 1 1/4 light seconds distant. Aldebaran is 65 light years away, and said light left the star around 1950, only to have its light ‘rejected’ during the very last second by the craggy mountains along the lunar limb. And though Aldebaran appears to be a member of the Hyades, it isn’t, as the open cluster sits 153 light years from Earth.

Image credit:
The Moon crosses through the Hyades in January 2015. Image credit and copyright: Nell Ghosh

And watch that Moon, as it then heads for a partial solar eclipse as seen from South Africa and the southern Indian Ocean on September 13th, and a total lunar eclipse visible from North America and Europe on September 28th.

Expect more to come, with complete guides to both on Universe Today!

Spectacular Views of Venus and the “Decrescent” Moon Worldwide

Did you see it? Earlier this week, we wrote about the spectacular conjunction of the planet Venus and the waning crescent Moon this week, which culminated in a fine occultation of the planet by our large natural satellite on Wednesday morning. The footprint of the occultation crossed northern Africa in the predawn hours to greet daytime observers across southern Asia. And although the pass was a near miss for many, viewers worldwide were treated to a fine photogenic pairing of Venus and the Moon.

Credit: SculptorLil
An “aircraft/Moon/Venus tri-conjunction” captured February 26th from London, UK. Credit: Sculptor Lil

This was a highlight event of the 2014 dawn apparition of Venus, and some great pics have been pouring in to us here at Universe Today via Twitter, Google+ and our Flickr pool. We also learned a new word this week while immersed in astronomical research: a decrescent Moon.  We first thought this was a typo when we came across it, but discovered that it stands for a waning crescent Moon going from Last Quarter phase to New. Hey, it’s got a great ring to it, and its less characters than “waning crescent” and thus comes ready Tweet-able.

Credit: Gadi Eidelheit
Venus and the Moon in the predawn sky captured from Israel. Credit: Gadi Eidelheit @gadieid

Some great video sequences have emerged as well, including this fine grazing sequence of a daytime crescent Venus brushing past the crescent Moon taken by Shahrin Ahmad:

Shahrin journeyed to the northern tip of Peninsular Malaysia to the town of Perlis near near the Thai border to capture the graze. “It was a really close event,” he noted. “Today, the clouds began to appear and posed some real tense moments during the occultation.”

And although many weren’t fortunate enough to be in the path of the occultation, many observers worldwide captured some very photogenic scenes of the conjunction between the Moon and Venus as the pair rose this morning, including this great video sequence from  Ryan Durnall:

And clear skies greeted a series of early morning astronomers worldwide, who shared these amazing images with us:

Brad Timerson
This morning’s conjunction as imaged from Newark, New York. Credit- Brad Timerson @btimerson
Venus and the Moon the day prior to the occultation, shot by Ken Lord from Maple Ridge, British Columbia. Credit- Ken Lord.
Venus and the Moon the day prior to the occultation, shot by Ken Lord from Maple Ridge, British Columbia. Credit- Ken Lord.
The Moon approaching Venus on February 25th as seen from Carbon County, Pennsylvania. Credit: Tom Wildoner.
The Moon approaching Venus on February 25th as seen from Carbon County, Pennsylvania. Credit: Tom Wildoner.
Venus and the Moon rising through the fog: Credit: Joanie Boloney @jstabila
Venus and the Moon rising through the fog: Credit: Joanie Boloney @jstabila

John Chumack was also up early this morning and was able to capture this fine image of the pair rising above the University of Dayton’s PAC Center:

Credit: John Chumack, www.galacticimages.com
Venus and the Moon as seen from Dayton, Ohio. Credit: John Chumack, www.galacticimages.com

“All I had available was a point and shoot camera (not even mine!)” Chumack told Universe Today. “I’m surprised it came out okay, considering all the ambient light on Campus!!!” Chumack used a Fujifilm Finepix S1000 point and shoot camera, and went sans tripod, doing a 2″ exposure with the camera perched atop a trash can. The results of this ad hoc setup look great!

Astrophotographer Giuseppe Petricca based in Pisa, Italy north of the occultation path also grabbed this outstanding closeup image of the crescent pair:

Credit: Giuseppe Petricca
Taken using a Nikon Coolpix P90 Bridge camera on a tripod mount. Credit: Giuseppe Petricca

“This morning was awesome!” Petricca told Universe Today. “The weather forecast showed a compact high layer of clouds, but there were enough gaps between them that allowed me to see the conjunction in a lot of different moments.”

You can compare and contrast the twin crescents of Venus and the Moon evident in the above image. “You can easily see the phase of the Planet Venus and a lot of details on the lunar surface, despite the high clouds that partially blocked the view sometimes!” Petricca noted.

And finally, I give you our own humble entry, a  conjunction over suburbia snapped pre-caffeination:

DSC_0584   We think its great that you can sometimes catch a memorable glimpse of the celestial even from your own doorstep.

And when is the next occultation of a planet by the Moon? That would be next month, when Saturn is occulted by the waxing gibbous Moon for South Africa and Brazil after sunset on March 21st, 2014. We’re in the midst of a cycle of occultations of the ringed planet by the Moon, occurring every lunation through the final one this year on October 25th.

The next occultation of Venus occurs on October 23rd 2014, but is only one degree from the Sun and is unobservable. The next observable event occurs on July 19th 2015 for northern Australia in the daytime, and for a remote stretch of the South Pacific at dusk.

And its still not too late to spy Venus in the daytime today, using the nearby Moon as a guide. Here’s a handy simulation to aid you in your quest generated for mid-noon, February 26th:

stellarium
The orientation of the Moon and Venus at ~17:00UT, including a five degree Telrad bullseye. Created by the author using Stellarium.

And finally here’s handy chart of maps of occultations of Venus by the Moon for the current decade, just click to enlarge:

Occult 4.0
Occultations of Venus by the Moon from 2011-2020. Created using Occult 4.0.

Enjoy!

A Fine Pair of Lunar Occultations for North America This Weekend

Heads up, North American residents: our Moon is about to blot out two naked eye stars on Friday and Saturday night.

Such an event is known as an occultation, an astronomical term that has its hoary roots in astronomy’s pseudoscience ancestor of astrology. An occultation is simply when one astronomical body passes in front of another from our line of sight. There’s nothing quite like watching a star disappear on the dark limb of the Moon. In a universe where events often transpire over periods of time longer than a human life span, occultations are abrupt affairs to witness.

Close double stars have also been teased out of occultation data, winking out in a quick, step-wise fashion. If an occultation such as the two this weekend occurs while the Moon is waxing towards Full, we get the added advantage of watching the action on the leading dark limb of the Moon during convenient early evening hours.

Beta Capricorni on the dark limb of the Moon Saturday night. (Created by the author using Starry Night).
Beta Capricorni on the dark limb of the Moon Saturday night. (Created by the author using Starry Night).

First up is the occultation of the +3.9th magnitude star Rho Sagittarii on Friday night, October 11th. Central conjunction for this occultation occurs at 00:40 Universal Time (UT) early on the morning of the 12th. The Moon will be at a 51% illuminated waxing gibbous phase, having passed First Quarter just prior to the start of the occultation at 7:02 PM EDT/23:02 UT on the 11th. The sunset terminator line at the start of the occultation will bisect the central U.S., and observers east of the Mississippi will get to witness the entire event. The southern graze line will cross Cuba and Guatemala. Note that the Moon will also pass its most southern declination for this lunation just two days prior on October 9th at 23:00 UT/7:00 PM EDT, at a declination of -19.6 degrees.  This is one of the Moon’s most southern journeys for 2013, meaning that it will still ride fairly far to the south in the sky during this weekend’s occultations.

The occultation of Rho Saggitarii by the Moon for the night of October 11th. (rendered using Occult 4.1.02 software).
The occultation of Rho Sagittarii by the Moon for the night of October 11th. the dashed line indicates where the occultation will occur in the daytime; east of this region, the occultation occurs after sunset. (rendered using Occult 4.1.02 software).

Rho Sagittarii is an F-type star 122 light years distant. Stick around until February 23rd, 2046, and you’ll get to see an even rarer treat, when the planet Venus occults the very same star. Just south of the Rho Sagittarii pair lies the region from which the Wow! Signal was detected in 1977.

The Moon moves at an average speed of just over a kilometre a second in its orbit about the Earth, and traverses roughly the apparent distance of its angular size of 30’ in one hour. The duration of occultations as seen from their center line take about an hour from ingress to egress, though its much tougher to watch a star reappear on the bright limb of the Moon!

And the night of Saturday, October 12th finds the 62% illuminated waxing gibbous Moon occulting an even brighter star across roughly the same region. The star is +3.1 magnitude Beta Capricorni, which also goes by the Arabic name of Dabih, meaning “the butcher.”  Dabih is also an interesting double star with a +6th magnitude component 3.5’ away from the +3rd magnitude primary. Dabih is an easy split with binoculars, and it will be fun to watch the two components pass behind the Moon Saturday night. This occultation also occurs the night of October 12th which is traditionally Fall Astronomy Day. If you’re hosting a star party this coming Saturday night, be sure to catch the well-timed occultation of Beta Capricorni! The central conjunction for this event occurs at 01:27 UT on the morning of the 13th, and North American observers east of the Rockies will get to see the entire event.

(Rendered using Occult 4.1.0.2 software).
The occultation footprint of Beta Capricorni for the night of October 12th. (Rendered using Occult 4.1.0.2 software).

Beta Capricorni is 328 light years distant, putting the physical separation of the B component at about a third of a light year away from the primary star at 21,000 astronomical units distant. “Beta B” thus takes about 700,000 years to orbit its primary! It’s also amazing to think that those fusion-born photons took over three centuries to get here, only to be rudely “interrupted” by the bulk of our Moon in the very last second of their journey.

And be sure to keep an eye on the primary star as it winks out, as it’s a known spectroscopic triple star with unseen companions in respective 9 and 1374 day orbits. Dabih may just appear to “hang” on the jagged lunar limb as those close companions wink out in a step-wise fashion.

Both occultations are bright enough to watch with the naked eye, although a standard set of 10x 50 binoculars will provide a fine view. The ingress of an occultation is also an excellent event to catch on video, and if you’ve got WWV radio running audio in the background, you can catch the precise time that the star disappears from your locale.

Note: WWV radio is still indeed broadcasting through the ongoing U.S. government shutdown, though they’re operated by NOAA & the NIST.

The International Occultation and Timing Association is always interested in reports of occultations carried out by amateur astronomers. Not only can this reveal or refine knowledge of close double stars, but a series of occultation observations from precisely known locations can map the profile of the lunar limb.

Be sure to catch both events this U.S. Columbus Day/Canadian Thanksgiving Day weekend, and send those pics in to Universe Today!

Precise timings for the ingress and egress of each lunar occultations for major North American cities can be found at the following pages:

– Rho Sagittarii

– Beta Capricorni

A Challenging Series of Occultations of Spica by the Moon Coming to a Sky Near You

The first in a cycle of challenging occultations of the bright star Spica for northern hemisphere observers begins this coming Monday on August 12th.

Watching a bright star or planet wink out on the dark limb of the Moon can be an amazing event to witness. It’s an abrupt “now you see it, now you don’t” event in a universe which often seems to move at an otherwise glacial pace. And if the event grazes the limb of the Moon, an observer may see a series of winks as the starlight streams through the lunar valleys.

Close companion stars have been discovered during occultations, and astronomers even used a series of occultations of radio source 3C 273 in 1962 to pin down the position of the first quasar.

An occultation occurs when one object passes in front of another as seen from the observer’s vantage point. The term has its hoary roots back in a time when astronomy was intertwined with its pseudoscience ancestor of astrology. Even today, I still get funny looks from non-astronomy friends when I use the term occultation, as if it just confirms their suspicions of the arcane arts that astronomers really practice in secret.

But back to reality-based science. At an apparent magnitude of +1.1, Spica is the 3rd brightest star that the Moon can occult along its five degree path above and below the plane of the ecliptic. It’s also one of only four stars brighter than +1.4 magnitude on the Moon’s path. The others are Antares (magnitude +1.0), Regulus (magnitude +1.4), and Aldebaran (magnitude +0.8). All of these are bright enough to be visible on the lunar limb through binoculars or a telescope in the daytime if conditions are favorable.

It’s interesting to note that this situation also changes over time due to the precession of the equinoxes. For example, the bright star Pollux was last occulted by the Moon in 117 BC, but cannot be covered by the Moon in our current epoch.

Spica is currently in the midst of a cycle of 21 occultations by our Moon. This cycle started in July 25th, 2012 and will end in January 2014.

Spica is a B1 III-IV type star 10 times the mass of the Sun. At 260 light years distant, Spica is one of the closest candidates to the Earth along with Betelgeuse to go supernova. Now, THAT would make for an interesting occultation! Both are safely out of the ~100 light year distant “kill zone”.

What follows are the circumstances for the next four occultations of Spica by the Moon. The times are given for closest geocentric conjunction of the two objects. Actual times of disappearance and reappearance will vary depending on the observer’s location. Links are provided for each event which include more info.

Starry Night
Looking westward 30 minutes after sunset for North American viewers on the night of August 12th. (Created by the Author using Starry Night).

First up is the August 12th occultation of Spica, which favors Central Asia and the Asian Far East. This will occur late in the afternoon sky around 09:00 UT  and prior to sunset. The waxing crescent Moon will be six days past New phase. North American observers will see the Moon paired five degrees from Spica with Saturn to the upper left on the evening of August 12th.

Occult
The footprint for the September 8th occultation of Spica by the Moon. Note that the broken line indicates where the occultation will take place in the daytime sky. ( Credit: Occult 4.1.0.2)

Next is the September 8th daytime occultation of Spica for Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa around ~15UT. This will be a challenge, as the Moon will be a waxing crescent at only 3 days past New. Observers in the Middle East will have the best shot at this event, as the occultation occurs at dusk and before moonset. Note that the Moon also occults Venus six hours later for Argentina and Chile.

Stellarium
Looking to the east the morning of November 2nd for North American observers. (Created by the author using Stellarium).

After taking a break in October (the occultation of October 5 occurs only 23 hours after New and is unobservable), the Moon again occults Spica on November 2nd for observers across Europe & Central Asia. This will be a difficult one, as the Moon will be only 20 hours from New and a hybrid solar eclipse that will cross the Atlantic and central Africa. It may be possible to lock on to the Moon and track it up into the daylight, just be sure to physically block the rising Sun behind a building or hill!

USNO
The occultation footprint of Spica by the Moon for November 29th, 2013.  (Reproduced from the Astronomical Almanac online and produced by the U.S. Naval Observatory and H.M. Nautical Almanac Office).

Finally, the Moon will occult Spica for North American observers on November 29th centered on 17:03 UT. This will place the event low in the nighttime sky for Alaskan observers. It’ll be a bit more of a challenge for Canadian and U.S. observers in the lower 48, as the Moon & Spica will be sandwiched between the Sun and the western horizon in the mid-day sky. As an added treat, comet C/2012 S1 ISON will reach perihelion on November 28th, just 20 hours prior and will be reaching peak brilliance very near the Sun.

And as an added bonus, the Moon will be occulting the +2.8 star Alpha Librae (Zubenelgenubi) on August 13th for central South America.

All of these events are challenges, to be sure. Viewers worldwide will still catch a close night time pairing of the Moon and Spica on each pass. We’ve watched the daytime Moon occult Aldebaran with binoculars while stationed in Alaska back in the late 1990’s, and can attest that such a feat of visual athletics is indeed possible.

And speaking of which, the next bright star due for a series of occultations by the Moon is Aldebaran starting in 2015. After 2014, Spica won’t be occulted by the Moon again until 2024.

But wait, there’s more- the total eclipse of the Moon occurring on April 15th 2014 occurs just 1.5 degrees from Spica, favoring North America. This is the next good lunar eclipse for North American observers, and one of the best “Moon-star-eclipse” conjunctions for this century. Hey, at least it’ll give U.S. observers something besides Tax Day to look forward to in mid-April. More to come in 2014!

Super-Moon Monday: The 3rd (& Final?) Act

“Once more into the breach, my dear friends…”

Such a quip may be deemed appropriate as we endured the media onslaught this past weekend for the third and final perigee Full Moon of 2013.

Tonight, on Monday, July 22nd, the Moon reaches Full at 18:15 Universal Time (UT)/4:15 PM EDT. This is only 21.9 hours after reaching perigee, or the closest point in its orbit at 358,401 kilometres from the Earth on the Sunday evening at 20:28 UT. Continue reading “Super-Moon Monday: The 3rd (& Final?) Act”

Amazing Video of a Lunar Occultation

Captured on camera by astrophotographer Rafael Defavari from his location in São Bernardo do Campo, Brazil, this video shows the Moon passing in front of Jupiter during an occultation event on December 25, 2012. Nice work!

The video plays at 5x actual speed.

Although Jupiter appeared to be “right next to” the Moon on Christmas night from our viewpoint here on Earth, in reality the two worlds were 388 million miles (625 million km) apart. The Moon blocked the view of the giant planet for a full hour and ten minutes.

‘Tis the season for lunar occultations, too… the last one occurred on November 28, and the next will be on January 22, 2013.

See more photos of the Dec. 25 event from viewers in Brazil here.

Video credit: Rafael Defavari