Lunar Occultation of Aldebaran

2016-1-Occultation-Aldebaran

As if all those conjunctions aren’t enough sky excitement for you all, there will be a series of monthly lunar occultations throughout 2016 between the Moon and the bright star Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus.  Most of these events will not be visible from the USA or will only be visible in the daytime.  But we will have a prime opportunity to see one in the early evening in the USA on the night of Tuesday, January 19, 2016.
Occultations are amazing events to observe.  During an occultation, the Moon covers over Aldebaran and hides the star for a time.  It’s fun to see before and after, when the star is extremely close to the Moon.  The word “occultation” comes from the Latin word “to hide.” (And no, it has nothing to do with “the occult”!) An explanation is presented in Chapter 7 of our Signs & Seasons curriculum.
The times for viewing are tricky since occultations begin and end at different times in different locations, because of certain celestial factors.  Here is a brief table of approximate times for several different USA locations, by no means claiming to be precise. It is strongly recommended that you go outside 10-15 minutes beforehand and enjoy the sight of Aldebaran as a little flea on the edge of the Moon. Aldebaran will disappear at the precise moment the occultation begins, and will not reappear for some portion of an hour:
Baltimore MD            9:28 PM EST
Boston MA                  9:35 PM EST
Washington DC         9:28 PM EST
Atlanta GA                  9:22 PM EST
Cleveland OH             9:14 PM EST
Chicago IL                   8:02 PM CST

Duluth MN                  7:55 PM CST

Nashville TN               8:09 PM CST

Jackson MS                 8:09 PM CST

Baton Rouge LA         8:16 PM CST

Fort Worth TX            7:46 PM CST

Seattle WA                   6:22 PM PST
Los Angeles CA           6:03 PM PST
For precise local times for numerous locations in the USA, Canada and Europe, visit the IOTA website.  This page includes a map showing visibility in the USA and Canada, and also includes a list of disappearance and reappearance times for many locations within the zone of visibility. However, it’s not very “user friendly” for astro-rookies, and you’ll have to hunt to find your location and info.  Also, the times are given in UT (Universal Time).  You will need to convert UT to your local time zone to find the times for your area, by subtracting the given time for the hour difference corresponding to your time zone, as follows:
EST = UT – 5 hrs
CST = UT – 6 hrs
MST = UT – 7 hrs
PST = UT – 8 hrs
For example, the disappearance time for Cleveland, Ohio is given precisely  as 2 14 36, which is 2:14 UT – 5 hrs = 9:14 PM EST.
Anyway, it’s pretty cool to watch these occultations, as the star completely winks out and vanishes at the precise moment of disappearance.  Such a sight would be very cool as seen through a telescope, but please don’t run out and buy one just for that!
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