Early risers in the northeast of England and Scotland blessed with clear skies will see naked-eye star lambda (λ) Geminorum, otherwise known as Alkibash (α=07h18.1m δ=+16°32′ J2000), slip behind the southern polar regions of an 18-day-old waning gibbous Moon close to 5am GMT on Sunday, 29 November. The occultation will take place some 40 degrees above the southwest horizon in a dark sky for the north of the UK.
What makes this occultation interesting is two fold: first, Alkibash is a 9.6-arcsecond double star, so its westernmost component will disappear first, closely followed by the companion star. Second, this is going to be a grazing lunar occultation, which means the star will only disappear behind the Moon if you live north of a line drawn (approximately) between Campbeltown on the Scottish Kintyre peninsula and the town of Driffield in the West Riding of Yorkshire, north of Hull.
If one is situated exactly on the graze line, the telescopic view of a moderately bright star winking in and out of sight as it is alternately hidden by mountains on the southern limb of the Moon then exposed again as it shines through a lunar valley affords an awesome demonstration of the orbital motion of the Moon. If a star happens to be a double — as lambda (λ) Geminorum is — the spectacle is enhanced as you have two points of light flickering on and off!
The grazing occultation time and line is predicted to run through south Campbeltown (5:07am), Galloway Forest Park (5:09am), Penrith (5:12am), Thirsk (5:14am) and Driffield (5:16am; all times GMT).
For some large centres of population north of the graze line, the full occultation disappearance (D) and reappearance (R) times for the star are: Glasgow (D 4:59am, R 5:18am); Edinburgh (D 4:57am, R 5:20am); Berwick-upon-Tweed (D 4:59am, R 5:23am); Newcastle upon Tyne (D 5:04am, R 5:21am); Stockton-on-Tees (D 5:07am, R 5:19am) and Scarborough (D 5:09am, R 5:20am).
As always, with any sort of occultation observation, ensure that you are setup and viewing a few minutes before the predicted time(s) so as not to miss anything. Clear skies!
Inside the magazine
You can find out more about this month’s lunar and stellar events in the November edition of Astronomy Now in addition to a full guide to the night sky.
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