Will Clouds Kill Tomorrow’s Regulus-Erigone Occultation?

(Top) The 45-mile-wide (73 km) shadow path of the asteroid Erigone. Observers in this zone will see the star Regulus blink out for up to 14 seconds shortly after 2 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time tomorrow morning March 20. Bottom satellite image shows the entire region under clouds as of 6 p.m. this evening. Credit: IOTA (top) and NOAA

Rain, clouds, fog and snow. That’s the sad forecast for observers living in the shadow path of one of the rarest predicted occultations ever to occur for North America – the blotting out of the bright, naked eye star Regulus by the asteroid 163 Erigone.

An occultation is astronomer-speak for an temporary eclipse or disappearance of a celestial object by the moon, planet or asteroid. For observers living on the path’s center line, Regulus will be hidden by Erigone for up to 14 seconds.

Right now the forecast is bleak with sodden skies forecast from Ontario, Canada south through New York and straight down to Bermuda, the southernmost bit of land crossed by Erigone’s shadow. Possible thinning of the clouds might occur south of New York in Long Island and New Jersey during the early morning hours. Here’s the latest New York City forecast, a New Jersey cloud cover map and a more detailed, interactive Google map of the path.

We wish the best to everyone standing vigil for a hoped-for spot of clearing. For those of us who don’t live in the path, several serious occultation watchers will stream the event live on the Web. Here’s a sampling:

Brad Timerson plans to go live with audio at 2 a.m. near Syracuse, NY.

Steve Preston will broadcast an image of his camcorder screen

Vagelis Tsamis will try to broadcast from Canada


UPDATE 3/20: As far as I’ve been able to determine, no one in the U.S. and Ontario, Canada saw the occultation due to bad weather. Everybody was socked in. A few observers traveled to Bermuda near the edge of the path. They had thin clouds but their cameras, which could track Regulus through the clouds, didn’t record the event. Apparently the track shifted slightly to the southwest.