One of the biggest and brightest stars in the night sky will momentarily disappear as one asteroid passes in front of it to produce a unique eclipse. The event should be visible to millions of people and it will also be live streamed.
The rare and fleeting spectacle, late Monday into early Tuesday, is likely to be visible to people along a narrow path stretching from Central Asia’s Tajikistan and Armenia, across Turkey, Greece, Italy and Spain, to Miami and the Florida Keys and finally to parts of Mexico.
How far is Betelgeuse from Earth?
An estimated 700 light-years away, Betelgeuse is visible to the naked eye. Binoculars and small telescopes will improve visibility. A light year is 5.8 trillion miles.
When will Betelgeuse explode?
Scientists expect Betelgeuse to go supernova in a violent explosion within 100,000 years.
Astronomers hope to learn more about Betelgeuse and Leona through the eclipse, which is expected to last no more than 15 seconds.
“For a very short time, we will see the legendary Orion constellation without its famous orange shoulder, as it will be in the distant future, once Betelgeuse has exploded as a supernova and faded to black,” according to Virtual telescope projectwho will deliver a live webcast from Italy.
Observing an eclipse of a much fainter star by Leona in September, a Spanish-led team recently estimated the asteroid to be about 34 miles wide and 50 miles long.
There is ongoing uncertainty about these predictions, as well as the size of the star and its expansive atmosphere. It is unclear whether the asteroid will obscure the entire star and produce a total eclipse. Rather, the result could be a “ring of fire” eclipse with a minimal flaming rim around the star. If it’s a total eclipse, astronomers aren’t sure how many seconds the star will disappear completely, perhaps up to 10 seconds.
“Which scenario we will see is uncertain, which makes the event even more exciting,” said astronomer Gianluca Masi, founder of the Virtual Telescope Project.
How to see the eclipse
Viewers can watch a live stream of the event host of the telescope project. The live stream is scheduled to begin at 8pm EST on Monday.
According to Sky & Telescopethe eclipse will occur around 8:17 PM EST.
“These kinds of occultations are very useful in constraining the shape of the asteroid involved,” Masi said. “Here we even hope to examine the surface of the star involved: Betelgeuse. It is a large red supergiant, and while Leona will move in front of it as seen from Earth, we will hopefully be able to learn more about its large convective cells that drive its variable brightness.”
Betelgeuse is thousands of times brighter than our Sun and about 700 times larger. It’s so big that if it replaced our sun, it would stretch beyond Jupiter, according to NASA.
At just 10 million years old, Betelgeuse is significantly younger than the 4.6 billion year old sun. Scientists expect Betelgeuse to be short-lived given its mass and the rate at which it burns through its material.
After countless centuries of fluctuating brightness, Betelgeuse dimmed dramatically in 2019 as a huge mass of surface material was ejected into space. The resulting dust cloud temporarily blocked the starlight, NASA said, and within half a year Betelgeuse was as bright as before.