What Is The Occultation of Aldebaran? Nope, Not A 'Star Wars' Battle, But Good Guess

The occultation of Aldebaran sounds like something straight out of a Star Wars movie, but you don't have to travel the galaxy or to the closest movie theater to see it; you can watch it live in the sky Tuesday night. Some astronomical events — Halley's Comet, lunar eclipses, meteor showers — are more well-known than others. But occultations are a well-kept secret. What is the occultation of Aldebaran?

An occultation happens when our moon covers over a star in the night sky. The root of the word is "occult," which means "hidden." A star (in this case, the star Aldebaran) is being hidden by the moon. It's a fairly common occurrence, but Tuesday night's occultation is special because it can be seen without a telescope. When the occultation occurs, it will look like someone flipped the off switch for Aldebaran.

Aldebaran is a star about 45 times the size of our sun, and it sits in the eye of the constellation Taurus. It's a first magnitude star, meaning it's one of the brightest and most colorful stars visible on Earth. Aldebaran's brightness is why the occultation can be seen by the naked eye, even in a city. However, the waxing gibbous moon might cause a bit of a challenge, so take a pair of binoculars or a telescope to get the best view possible.

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Planets can also occult stars. Regulus, Spica, and Antares are the only three visible stars that can be occulted by both the moon and the planets in our solar system. However, those occultations don't occur quite as frequently, so this occultation of Aldebaran is your best shot for seeing this astronomical event.

The occultation on Tuesday night will be visible all across North America and western Europe, but the exact time of visibility depends on your location. Times for New York are 9:31 p.m. EST for the disappearance and 10:43 p.m. EST for the reappearance. For Los Angeles, the times are 5:03 p.m. PST and 6:14 p.m. PST. Check your local news to see if it has the time for your specific location.

If you miss out Tuesday night, don't stress — the moon will occult Aldebaran again on July 29, Oct. 19, and Dec. 14 of this year. If you can take advantage of the event, make sure to bring warm clothes and your favorite stargazing buddy!

Image: Pixabay; Fotolia