On the night from Monday to Tuesday, the asteroid will pass right in front of Betelgeuse, one of the brightest stars in our sky, located in the Orion constellation. Who will have the chance to watch this extraordinary event?
This red supergiant will disappear or partially disappear from the eyes of Earth observers for about 10-15 seconds as it occults – the visible covering of the star by a celestial body. It will happen just after 2 a.m.
Betelgeuse will be eclipsed by asteroid (319) Leona, orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. (319) Leona is egg-shaped, 80 kilometers long and 55 kilometers wide, and takes 6 years and 89 days to orbit the Sun.
A “unique” opportunity
As astronomers point out, the occultation of Betelgeuse will be an “extraordinary and unique” opportunity to study its photosphere, i.e. the visible surface layer. Researchers pay a lot of attention to the star because they have noticed that it can brighten and dim rapidly. Some believe that Betelgeuse will explode into a supernova in our lifetime.
Can the approaching occultation be seen? Sky observers from places stretching from central Mexico, through southern Europe, to Eurasia will have a chance to do so.
Main photo source: Andrea Dupree (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA), Ronald Gilliland (STScI), NASA and ESA