As Aldebaran Vanished

Hey, everyone. Hang on a second… the coffee’s done. I need a second cup today. A couple of sluggish days are a fair price to pay for donating blood.

It’s been really great seeing people’s reports coming in from all over the Internet about this Saturday night’s occultation of Aldebaran by the moon. I wasn’t going to be sure I’d see it, myself. The weather hasn’t cooperated this winter, and after a long day of my daughter and me not seeing each other’s perspective on things, I was tired. I don’t have a photo of it, but here’s a photo of that part of the sky on another night.

Not a photo of the moon occulting Aldebaran
Aldebaran, not in danger of being occulted

I don’t have a lot of followers here, but I’ve enjoyed reading other people’s posts and websites, and it’s been great sort of piecing together a map of where people were watching from. People farther south than I am saw Aldebaran vanish farther toward the moon’s south.

My wife, who is really only an astronomy fan through me, humored me Saturday. With the kids in bed, we poured the beer, and moved into the living room, where we have a huge and gorgeous western view, out over the hills across the river. This time of year, with the trees still bare, and the bright stars of winter far into the west by mid-evening, it’s a great place to watch the sky. Even on a regular night, without the moon occulting one of my favorite stars, I love standing there, with the lights down and a thick stout in hand, looking out at the dark. It reminds me of the scenes of Darth Vader staring out at the under-construction Death Star, only without all the all general annoyance and ill will. I felt lucky to be able to hide from the cold and still see the show. This time, the clouds even cooperated.

I live pretty close to the graze line, which was effectively the northern limit of the occultation. Anyone along that line would have seen Aldebaran blink on and off a few times as it was hidden by the moon’s mountains and cliffs, and then revealed by its valleys. North of that line, “what occultation?” I wonder how maybe people decided to spend their night traveling around to get closer and see it happen; lots, I hope. As we watched, with simple, quiet conversation about Girl Scout Cookies (Samoas, man, Samoas), and the lights down, the moon slid along the eastern edge of the Hyades and inched closer.

By about 10:45 with the setting moon’s terminator, the line, from our point of view, that separates the moon’s day from its night, tilted to about 45 degrees from northwest to southeast, Aldebaran looked to be not just near the moon, but among it, part of it, within it. The shadows we could see as we passed the binoculars back and forth were amazing. I scanned the regolith for the small craters there that have my daughter’s and my first names, even though I knew I had just as much chance of seeing them as I did of seeing Armstrong’s first steps, or Cernan’s last.

I don’t often look to the skies for answers, but I’m surprised at how often I find them there. The occulation wasn’t really happening. Nothing was changing. It was just my perspective on those two particular spots in the galaxy at that particular moment.  An hour or so north, and it was just another night, with people looking for something to look at.

I tiptoed over toys and books into my daughter’s room, and managed to hold in a yelp when I stepped on a Lego. She was still awake, just enough, and we talked for a few minutes about the day. I told her I saw her perspective on things, and hoped, come tomorrow, she’d see mine. With a hug, she turned down my offer to come to the living room.

A few minutes later, just after the clock flipped to 11:10, a giant orange star, much bigger then our Sun, perhaps with planets and people all its own, vanished without a chirp. Neither the Pleiades, Orion, nor Castor or Pollux seemed troubled.

I hope you were able to see it, too.

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5 thoughts on “As Aldebaran Vanished

  1. Thanks for that lovely, lovely post! I wish I could have read that before watching the occultation so I cpuld appreciate it better and find your words more appropriate to describe it than any of my own thoughts. It was breathtaking to behold and I have you to thank for bringing it to my attention and handing me the binoculars to see it.

    Liked by 1 person

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