A Super-Rare Asteroid Eclipse Will Hide The Brightest Star In The Sky, How To Watch

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In a cosmic game of hide and seek, an asteroid will pass in front of one of the biggest and brightest stars visible in the night sky. Asteroid Leona will pass in front of the star Alpha Orionis, also known as Betelgeuse (seen in the image above via NASA), which is a red supergiant in the constellation Orion.

Betelgeuse (pronounced BAY-tel-jooz) is nearing the end of its life cycle and will eventually explode as a supernova. According to NASA, when it does, it will provide the raw materials for future stellar generations. But before that happens, the star will take center stage during an asteroid eclipse expected to occur on Monday, December 11, 2023, into early Tuesday.

Asteroid (319) Leona is approximately 70 kilometers in diameter and was first discovered by French astronomer Auguste Charlois on October 8, 1891. The slow-moving asteroid is one of the top 100 slowest rotators said to exist.

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Chart showing location of star Betelgeuse in the Orion constellation.

Astronomers predict that the eclipse will occur in one of two ways. It will either produce a ‘ring of fire eclipse’ with a glowing halo, or it will be a total eclipse that could last as long as 10 seconds.

“Which scenario we will see is uncertain, making the event even more intriguing,” explained Gianluca Masa, founder of the Virtual Telescope Project.

The celestial spectacle should be viewable to those in central Asia’s Tajikistan and Armenia, across Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain, Miami and the Florida Keys, and parts of Mexico.

Betelgeuse is an estimated 700 light-years away from Earth. The star is thousands of times brighter than the sun, and around 700 times larger. While Betelgeuse is visible to the naked eye, those wanting to catch a better glimpse of the eclipse should use a small telescope or pair of binoculars.

Anyone wanting to watch the asteroid eclipse online can go to The Virtual Telescope Project 2.0 website on December 12, 2023, starting at 01:00 UTC.