Observers throughout the Americas, and even westernmost Europe,
have a chance to observe an occultation of an 11.3-magnitude star in
Gemini by far-flung 20000 Varuna on Sunday night, February 10-11, 2008. This trans-Neptunian object (TNO)
may be as large as 1,000 kilometers across.
Those in South America are especially encouraged to try to observe this
event, since they have the highest probability for an occultation.
The nominal path misses the Earth to the south, but the real
uncertainties in the prediction are hard to assess, as Steve
Preston (International Occultation Timing Association) notes. So there's a chance for an event even in
Occultations of stars this bright by such large TNOs
are quite rare; so far, none beyond those by Pluto/Charon have been
observed. Even if an occultation by Varuna doesn't occur, there
could be an occultation by a possible satellite of Varuna.
Closest approach is at 4:26 Universal Time on February 11th in South
America, and about 4:30 UT in North America. The formal uncertainty (1 sigma) in the time is about 5
minutes, but you should
be prepared for at least a 3-sigma event. I would recommend
monitoring/recording the star for at least 20 minutes before and
after the predicted time for your station. If an occultation
occurs, there will be a 9-magnitude drop lasting about 43 seconds
for a central event. The star to be occulted is TYC 1913-00670-1
at right ascension 7h 18m 50.1s, declination +25° 43' 19" (equinox
2000.0). It lies 2.5° SSW of 5th-magnitude Iota (ι) Geminorum and 1.3° WNW of
57 Geminorum. Detailed finder charts of different scales are
on Preston's website for the event here.
His site also has a view of the Earth as seen from Varuna that can
be used to estimate your time of closest approach, as well as the altitude of the event
above your horizon.
Brian Skiff (Lowell Observatory) notes that the star to be occulted may be slightly fainter than given
above, magnitude 11.9 rather than 11.3.
If you are reading an e-mailed copy of this AstroAlert, be sure to look at the online version at SkyandTelescope.com/AstroAlert for possible late updates.
For more about observing occultations in general, check these
Reporting Your Observations
For occultations of stars by asteroids, we have special report forms (.xls versions preferred, but
plain-text forms are available as well) at these URLs:
Once you complete one of these forms, please send it to IOTA's e-mail address for reporting
asteroid-occultation observations: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional resources for reporting your observations are available at the website of the North American
Asteroid Occultation Program:
Please spread word of this event; good luck with your observations!