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Get Set to See a Stellar Vanishing Act in the Night Sky

If you're in the right place at the right time early Thursday, you can see an asteroid blot out the light from the bright star Regulus.
Image: Erigone
A simulation shows the asteroid Erigone blotting out light from the star Regulus.NASA
/ Source: Associated Press

Skywatchers, get ready to see a rare vanishing act — and don't blink.

In the wee hours of Thursday, a 45-mile-wide (72-kilometer-wide) asteroid will eclipse the brightest star in the constellation Leo. The asteroid is 163 Erigone in the asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The star briefly disappearing will be Regulus.

This so-called occultation will last no more than 14 seconds, around 2 a.m. ET. It could be as short as a fraction of a second.

A map traces the path where the asteroid Erigone is expected to blot out the bright star Regulus, in the constellation Leo.NASA
A star chart locates the star Regulus in the constellation Leo, which should be visible roughly halfway up in the southwest sky, as seen from the northeastern U.S. at the time of the occultation. Leo is recognizable by the "sickle" that forms the celestial lion's head.NASA

What makes this unusual is the brightness of Regulus and the potential viewing audience. Weather permitting, the eclipse should be visible with the naked eye from New York City and elsewhere along a populated swath in the U.S. Northeast and eastern Canada.

For details, including the precise viewing area and times, consult the International Occultation Timing Association's website: http://occultations.org/regulus2014/

— Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press