Betelgeuse nearly disappeared – for some – in rare eclipse

A bright large white disk with spikes and a couple small white dots nearby, with one labeled Leona.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Steven Bellavia in Southold, New York, captured this image on December 11, 2023. Steven wrote: “Some of the world got to see an occultation of Betelgeuse by asteroid 319 Leona. For my location it was a near-occultation. I had to wait quite a while for the small and faint Leona, at magnitude 14.5 (about the same as dwarf-planet Pluto) to come out of the bright glare of Betelgeuse, the 11th brightest star in the sky.” Thank you, Steven! Click here to see Steven’s timelapse of the event.

Betelgeuse nearly disappeared

The bright star Betelgeuse did become fainter – and, for experienced observers using the right equipment, nearly disappeared – last night (December 11, 2023). The event occurred as asteroid Leona passed in front of the star. But the event was quick! And it was subtle: a momentary dimming of the star.

Translation: Asteroid 319 Leona passed in front of the star Betelgeuse tonight and it seems that it only decreased its brightness for a couple of seconds and did not completely hide it, at least from the perspective of Italy. “Spikes” or glow lines disappear briefly. Video: Antonio Piras.

The post above – from Italy – shows what the eye would have seen: a dimming, but not a total disappearance.

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Report from cyberspace

We also heard from experienced observer and EarthSky community member Eliot Herman in Tucson, Arizona, who said he watched the event online at several different channels. He said:

I watched first in Sardina. It looked maybe 50% decrease for 2 seconds there. Then I flipped to Portugal and saw nothing. Betelguese must either be larger than thought in apparent diameter or the asteroid smaller.

And here’s a light curve

From Córdoba, Andalusia

The video above is from Sebastian Voltmer (@SeVoSpace on Twitter, @spacemovie on YouTube). He was observing at Almodóvar del Río, a Spanish municipality in the province of Córdoba, Andalusia.

Betelgeuse eclipse on December 11 or 12

Betelgeuse is a famous red supergiant star in the constellation Orion the Hunter. Prior to the event, Betelgeuse’s light was predicted to look dimmed or extinguished for up to 7 seconds. But we didn’t see any reports of its dimming for that long (some might still come in).

The event took place at 1:24:54 UTC on December 12, 2023.

Betelgeuse will dim: Black-and-white chart of the globe with a straight line from Middle East, across southern Europe and the Atlantic, to Caribbean area.
Path of the Betelgeuse event. It cut across southern Europe and over to the Bahamas and southern tip of Florida and coast of Mexico will see Betelgeuse dim on December 11 and 12, 2023, as an asteroid passes in front of it. Image via Steve Preston. Used with permission.

Betelgeuse is a temperamental star

Betelgeuse is already famous for how it varies in brightness. And, since 2019, there’s been a noticeable uptick in the brightening and dimming of Betelgeuse. It’s the nearest red supergiant star to Earth, lying some 1,000 light-years away. It will explode someday, though that might be today or thousands of years from now. A paper in 2023 said that it might explode within “tens of years.” That would be amazing to see!

If it were to explode, we would see it as an incredibly bright star, even visible in daylight for roughly a year until it faded away completely, leaving a darkness where Orion’s shoulder was. Fortunately, Earth is too far away for this explosion to harm, much less destroy, life on Earth.

The constellation Orion, with bluish stars except for one bright, orangish star at upper left, over a dark landscape.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Sergei Timofeevski shared this image from November 13, 2023. Sergei wrote: “The constellation Orion the Hunter and the star Sirius rising just above the eastern horizon in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California.” Thank you, Sergei! See the orangish star marking one of Orion’s shoulders? That’s the star Betelgeuse.

Bottom line: On December 11 and 12, 2023, the star Betelgeuse dimmed, and nearly disappeared, for several seconds as asteroid Leona passed in front of it.

December 12, 2023

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Kelly Kizer Whitt

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