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Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • Looking Up: 'Spring star' to briefly vanish

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  • Those who have had enough of winter need only to look above their heads the next clear night to know that spring is near. Among the stars associated with spring evenings is the bright blue-white star Regulus, already showing in the east in early March while winter's stars dominate the southern view.
    Keep an eye out for Regulus and don't be surprised of one night this month it briefly disappears.
    Stars normally don't just "go out" suddenly, but for a certain area of the Northeast U.S., Regulus will do just that - thankfully returning seconds later.
    Regulus is the brightest star in the constellation Leo the Lion.
    In this case, Regulus is being eclipsed - the actual term is "occulted" - by a dim asteroid, passing right between the star and a select path on the Earth.
    This event is due in the early morning hours of Thursday, March 20 - the spring equinox, by coincidence.
    Asteroids passing in front of stars are not that unusual, but usually the star is faint. Passage of a celestial body in front of a bright, naked-eye star is rare and gets lots of attention. Carefully documented observations by amateur astronomers along the path can give the scientific community a "picture" of the shape of the rocky, often irregular asteroid. Precise time records of when the star disappears and reappears, or if it was covered at all, give information about how the size of that part of the rock that covered the star.
    The asteroid 163 Erigone occults Regulus at 2:07 a.m. EDT on March 20.
    The predicted path on the Earth where the shadow of the asteroid will cross passes over Long Island, New York City, northern New Jersey and through New York State over the Catskill region on its way to Lake Ontario and Canada.
    The western edge of the path is expected to pass over Pennsylvania. There is some uncertainty of just how far west and east it will be seen.
    At that hour, Regulus will be seen high in the western sky.
    It's really more than a "blink." The star will vanish for up to 14.3 seconds. A 6-inch or larger telescope will show only the faint asteroid (magnitude +12.4) with +1.3 magnitude Regulus blocked from view.
    Is it worth staying up that late and going out on a likely cold night to see if Regulus blinks off? If you don't blink off and are watching at 2:07 a.m., it could be an extraordinary sight if it happens over your backyard (or through your window).
    P.S. If Regulus keeps shining, don't worry, it doesn't mean another six more weeks of winter.
    First-quarter moon is on March 6. Send your comments to news@neagle.com.
    Keep looking up!
    Page 2 of 2 - For detailed information on the Regulus event, see http://occultations.org/regulus2014/%20and%20www.facebook.com/Regulus2014.
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