The people of New York City may be used to feeling at the centre of the world – and this week their city is at the nucleus of the latest asteroid hunt. New Yorkers don’t need to panic: the 72-kilometre-wide asteroid Erigone isn’t going to smash into the city. Instead, it is scheduled to eclipse Regulus – the brightest star in the constellation Leo – as seen from the Big Apple, plus a large part of upstate New York and parts of New Jersey, Connecticut, Ontario and Bermuda (see map, below).
Distant Erigone orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter. If its predicted path is correct (seeadditional image, above right), the star will completely vanish for up to 14 seconds at about 0200 local time on 20 March. And the occultation should be visible to the naked eye, even through the bright lights of Manhattan. Asteroid occultations are a common astronomy tool, though such events are usually only seen with a telescope and from dark corners of the globe. The International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA) is exploiting the fact that this one is potentially visible to millions of NYC citizens. Its vice president for planetary occultation services, Brad Timerson, gave us the scoop on what this week’s crossing will do for science, the possibility of seeing an asteroid “moon” and a peek into the life of an occultation timer. MORE