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Space rock to blot out light from prominent star

| Saturday, March 15, 2014, 9:39 p.m.

Weather permitting, millions of people in the northeastern United States could witness a rare and eerie sight this week: a space rock blotting out one of the brightest stars in the sky.

The Rhode Island-sized space rock will extinguish the light from the star Regulus just after 2 a.m. Thursday for as long as 14 seconds. This blockage-by-space rock will be the most visible such event in North America, an unprecedented marvel that those with no astronomical knowledge can observe.

What's more, anyone with even modest gear “can contribute real science,” said Alan MacRobert, a senior editor at Sky & Telescope magazine.

The star of the show is Regulus in the constellation Leo, which will be in the western part of the sky in the wee hours. Regulus is what's known as a first-magnitude star, so it's very bright to those in rural areas and visible in big cities, except in places such as Times Square that are drenched in artificial light.

The spoiler that will temporarily hide Regulus' light is a 45-mile-wide rock named Erigone, which is as dark as fresh asphalt, orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter and does not come close to Earth, said José Luis Galache, an astronomer at the Minor Planet Center, which tracks comets, asteroids and other small objects. Observers should see the star wink out, then reappear.

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