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Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Moon occults Aldebaran, March 4, 2017

8:51 PM. Orion, the Moon in the Hyades,and the Pleiades
Saturday night I got home too late to get an image of the thinning and widening crescent of Venus. But I did get a clear view of the Moon in the Western sky between Orion and the Pleiades - smack on top of the V-shaped asterism of the Hyades.

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8:53 PM
At that point, the Moon was smack in the ridiculously symmetrical vertex of the Hyades. Its dark side - lit up dimly by Earthshine, not bright enough to be visible to the naked eye - was aimed directly at the bright star at the upper left of the V.

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8:55 PM
I had to look the star's name up - Aldebaran. While I was doing that, I came across an article that stated that the Moon would be passing in front of - occulting- the star that night.

The timing didn't seem right. For New York City, the occultation was slated to begin at 11:10 PM. But the exact details of an occultation vary depending on the location of an observer on the surface of the Earth - the Moon, after all, is a three-dimensional object and is much closer to the Earth than to the star it is covering, so its position relative to the background stars will be different for different observers. Surely the event would take place sooner in Northeastern Pennsylvania?

9:54 PM
Saturday night was a cold, cold night. But I had never observed an occultation before, and I didn't want to risk missing it. So when I went out again at about 10:20 that night, I decided to stay out for the night.

10:24 PM
 That was the plan, at least.

10:38 PM
I was wrapped up pretty well. But my camera had no real protection from the cold. Cold will sap the life from a battery, at least temporarily. Even though it had been recently charged, the low battery warning started showing fairly early in the night.

The words BATTERY EXHAUSTED appeared a few minutes before 11:00 PM, and the camera shut down.

I've been meaning to get a spare battery since I got my camera. I never got around to it. But I remembered that a cold battery can be brought back to life by warming it. To get the battery out of my camera, I needed to take the camera off the tripod, remove the tripod quick-release mount, open the compartment, and pop out the battery. I did this, and started warming the battery in my cold hand.

I dropped the quick-release mount.

It went bouncing across the frozen lawn in the dark. I felt around with one hand while holding the camera in the other, which was also closed around the battery. Nothing. I could try propping the camera on the tripod - no good, not stable. I would need to go into the house to get a flashlight.

I found one. In another minute, I found the quick-connect mount, far from where I had dropped it, with just a few minutes to go.

11:05 PM

After a few shots, the battery died again.

Fine, I thought. I popped the battery out an warmed it again. I held on tightly to the mount this time. About a minute left.

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11:08 PM. Aldebaran about to be covered.
And then...
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11:09 PM. Aldebaran is now covered by the Moon.
Gone.

I went back in the house. A glance at the clock revealed that the timings for New York City were pretty accurate for my location, too. It also revealed that I had been outside a heck of a lot longer than I had realized. I uploaded a selection of my images, watched the opening of Saturday Night Live (with Kate McKinnon playing Jeff Sessions in the manner of Forrest Gump), started recharging the camera, and went to bed.

I suppose Aldebaran popped out from behind the Moon eventually, but I was too cold and tired to watch.

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