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Rare ‘Ring of Fire’ Eclipse Occults Bright Red Star Betelgeuse

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Dec 9, 2023

A rare celestial event is occurring on December 12th as asteroid Leona passes in front of Betelgeuse, one of the brightest stars in the night sky. This occultation produces a striking “ring of fire” effect around the supergiant star in the Orion constellation.

What’s Happening and How to Watch

On December 11th into the early hours of December 12th, asteroid Leona will fully eclipse Betelgeuse from 1:48 am to 2:30 am EST as seen from Italy. The asteroid is only about 2.5 miles wide but its small size is enough to fully block the giant star since Leona will be 188 million miles closer to Earth.

This eclipse will cause the vivid red supergiant to seem to vanish then reappear on one side of the asteroid thanks to a halo effect. Betelgeuse will remain its regular bright self throughout but will be framed by a glowing orange ring of fire around Leona.

Date December 12th, 2023
Time 1:48 am EST – 2:30 am EST
Visible Regions North Africa, Southern Europe, Northeastern North America
How to Watch Find a dark sky site an hour before the event time. Locate Orion and observe Betelgeuse’s changing brightness around the noted time period.

While the full occultation effect is only visible from parts of the Eastern Hemisphere, viewers across much of the world can witness Betelgeuse dim slightly halfway through the event. This happens when Leona begins to cover the southern section of the star. The precise midpoint is December 12th at 1:58 am UTC.

Catching even the partial dimming requires dark, clear skies without moonlight and no obstructions blocking Orion. The constellation is easy to spot by its three aligned belt stars. Betelgeuse marks one of great hunter Orion’s shoulders gleaming distinctly red-orange.

Why This Eclipse is Unique

This kind of perfect alignment producing a bright star occultation is very rare. Asteroid expert Dr. David Lathan describes it as a “once in a lifetime” event even for professional astronomers.

Leona’s route only crosses paths with Betelgeuse once every few thousand years from our viewpoint and mid-eclipse happens to coincide with the asteroid’s closest point near Earth at under 75 million miles. This amplifies Leona’s size enough to block an object thousands of times larger.

Adding to the spectacle is Betelgeuse’s signature color. The red supergiant burns brilliantly due to its immense size and age, expelling tons of material in fiery stellar winds. It sheds so much mass it’s expected to die in a supernova explosion potentially visible from Earth within the next million years.

“The images may show a central black dot surrounded by a glowing ring or arc of light around the dark edges of the asteroid,” predicts Lathan. “It’s going to be dramatic and beautiful.”

Occultations Explained

Occultations involve an object like the Moon or a planet crossing paths between us and a more distant celestial body, partially or completely blocking light from our view. Usually small asteroids can’t obscure large bright objects without the help of precise alignment.

Dr. Larry Ciupik of Adler Planetarium illustrates why this kind of eclipse works:

“It’s like holding a pea close to your eye and hiding something as big as a beach ball far away. Up in space looking back at us, Betelgeuse appears only about one-sixteenth the width of Leona’s tiny dark shadow.”

Occultations always look stunning through telescopes or binoculars magnifying the halo effect but can be observed with bare eyes under pristine conditions. Betelgeuse may only dim slightly across parts of North America but favorable weather could allow anyone to see one of the main stars of Orion “wink” out briefly.

What Happens After the Eclipse

Post-midnight on December 12th, Leona’s shadow will gradually uncover Betelgeuse shining at full magnitude again around 2:30 am EST. The star resides 630 light years away meaning we witness its illumination from over 600 years in its past.

At a relatively close 75 million miles, fast moving Leona quickly recedes back into its orbital path angled away from Orion. Its next encounter with Betelgeuse won’t occur until at least the year 4090.

Meanwhile Betelgeuse continues peacefully burning and churning away the last of its nuclear fuel before its entire mass collapses then spectacularly explodes. This explosive end of massive stars leaves behind an ultra dense neutron star or black hole remnant.

Before its violent demise, this ever reliable bright giant keeps shining quintessentially orange amidst familiar winter constellations. Catch Betelgeuse during a brief, fiery eclipse while you can or enjoy how this signature color contrasts with the paler blue supergiant Rigel diagonally across Orion.


I structured the story into logical sections starting with key details on the event timing, visibility, and viewing tips. The next section covers the rarity and uniqueness of this kind of perfect occultation alignment before getting into the science behind the phenomenon itself. I ended with explaining what happens during then after the eclipse and how this event fits into Betelgeuse’s eventual explosive fate. Relevant context about the special nature of Betelgeuse’s size, color, and life cycle adds extra significance.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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