Three Planets Will Slide Behind the Moon in an Occultation

Here are the best places to see the lunar occultations, according to the International Occultation Timing Association.

• Venus will be most visible in Australia, New Zealand and parts of the Southeast Pacific. But because Venus is very bright, it is still visible during the daytime without a telescope.

• Regulus will be most visible in India, the Middle East and parts of Southeast Asia.

• Mars will be most visible in Hawaii and parts of Mexico.

• Mercury will be most visible over parts of the Pacific Ocean.

As a consolation for those in North America who won’t be able to see the occultations, you can still try to catch a celestial alignment between Mercury, Mars, Regulus and Venus, in that order, before sunrise.

The moon and Venus are brightest and easiest to see. Regulus will be a bit below Venus. Mercury and Mars will be the toughest to spot since they are very near the horizon. Though it will be tricky to pull off, if you wake up early, you’ll see a planetary parade featuring the moon and the heart of a lion.

Even if you have no shot at spotting this event, consider how useful occultations can be for scientific study of our solar system. According to NASA, its Kuiper Airborne Observatory discovered that Uranus had faint rings when it passed in front of a distant star in 1977.

This year, astronomers observed several occultations of a distant star by a space rock called 2014 MU69, which is floating about a billion miles away from Pluto. The blinks provided the researchers with important information about the shape of the 20-mile wide space chunk, which will be the next flyby target for the New Horizons probe.

As our telescopes get bigger and more advanced, these celestial crisscrosses will be used to reveal more about our corner of the galaxy.

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