Not to replace the weekly astronomy summary, I wanted to get this out early so interested viewers can catch it. On Saturday, March 4, the crescent moon will get VERY close to Aldebaran, the red eye of Taurus. For most of the world, that’s the end of the story, but for much of North America, the moon will actually cross between us and the star, and the star will wink out behind the dark limb of the moon.
This occultation (as it’s called) of Aldebaran will look particularly interesting through a telescope, almost like sunset on another planet. Over the centuries, occultations like this have had significant scientific value – precise timing of the events have helped refine positions of stars, better calculate orbital trajectories of the Moon, helped resolve close double-stars (in the cases where the Moon occults first one, then the other), and very early, demonstrated the lack of atmosphere on the Moon.
Precise measurements still have value, but for most of us, it just looks cool. The Moon’s orbit is such that this is the first of many – the Moon will actually occult Aldebaran every month from now until September, 2018 – as viewed from SOMEWHERE on Earth. But not always here, and not always in the evening.
Hope you get a chance to enjoy this one! (From Patuxent River, look for Aldebaran to wink out at 11:04:43 pm, and re-appear at 11:41:16 pm. Data for MANY locations can be found here, at the International Occulting Timing Association.)
Get Out There!