Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa, will do something astonishing this month. The moon will pass in front of a distant star later this month, obscuring the light of a distant star from Earth’s view. While these kinds of occultation events happen often, this one will be unique thanks to Europa’s position at the time of the event. When it occurs, Europa will completely hide the star, bathing it in darkness.
Jupiter’s moon Europa will hide a star from view later this month
While occultation events aren’t uncommon in space observations—lunar eclipses happen quite often—one like this is fairly rare. That’s because when Europa hides the star later this month, it will also be bathed in Jupiter’s shadow.
As such, the moon will be completely dark when it moves into position in front of the distant star. This will create a darkening effect, making it appear as if the star has literally vanished from view. It’s a unique type of occultation event, the ESA says, and should be a treat for skywatchers in certain parts of Africa.
Additionally, Europa moving into position to hide a star will also give us access to new data for the ESA’s study of Jupiter’s icy moon. Observations for that mission will begin in 2031 when the spacecraft arrives at the moon.
Learning more about Europa
The ESA is working hard to put together its Jupiter Icy moons Explorer (Juice) mission. And the space agency believes that this event could also tell us more about how starlight interacts with the envelope of gasses surrounding the moon.
What’s even more impressive about this upcoming event where Europa will hide a star is that it was predicted by a star mapping mission studying the Milky Way’s various star locations.
This also isn’t the first time that Gaia has predicted an occultation event, either. Previously it predicted occultation events involving all four of Jupiter’s largest moons. None were similar to Europa hiding a star, though.
This kind of event is only possible because Jupiter’s shadow will completely cover Europa. When it does so, the moon will be invisible unless sunlight hits it. And, because Jupiter is completely blocking the Sun the moon itself will almost vanish into the night sky.
Of course, Europa hiding a star will only be visible from a narrow set of places on the Earth’s surface. The event will only be visible from African countries like Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.