A spectacular eclipse will be visible in the northern sky early next week when an asteroid passes in front of one of the biggest and brightest stars, causing it to disappear for a while.
The star is Betelgeuse, a red supergiant in the constellation Orion. The asteroid is Leona, a slowly rotating oblong space rock located in the main asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter.
This rare and fleeting sight, which takes place late Monday and early Tuesday, will be seen by millions of people on a narrow road that goes from Tajikistan and Armenia in Central Asia, through Turkey, Greece, Italy, and Spain, to Miami and the Florida Keys, and, finally, some places in Mexico.
Astronomers hope to learn more about Betelgeuse and Leona through the eclipse, which is expected to last no more than 15 seconds. By observing an eclipse of Leona’s fainter star in September, a Spanish-led team recently estimated that the asteroid measures about 34 miles across and 50 miles long.
A ‘ring of fire’ with a burning edge
Uncertainty remains about these predictions, as well as about the size of the star and its vast atmosphere. It’s unclear if the asteroid will completely cover the star, creating a total eclipse.
Instead, the result will be a ‘ring of fire’ eclipse with a small burning rim around the star. If it’s a total eclipse, astronomers aren’t sure how many seconds the star will disappear completely, maybe up to 10 seconds.
Astronomer Gianluca Masa, founder of the Virtual Telescope Project, which will offer a live Internet broadcast from Italy, says: “We don’t know what scenario we will see, which makes the event even more interesting.”
Betelgeuse is located about 700 light years away and is visible to the naked eye. Binoculars and small telescopes improve vision. One light year is equal to 8 billion kilometers.
Betelgeuse is thousands of times brighter than our sun and about 700 times larger. It is so big that, if it replaced our sun, it would surpass Jupiter, according to NASA.
At just 10 million years old, Betelgeuse is younger than the 4.6 billion-year-old Sun. Scientists expect that Betelgeuse will not last long due to its weight and the rate at which it burns its material.
A big question mark was discovered in space by the James Webb telescope