What is an occultation?

It’s a term used by astronomers, but what does it mean?

Venus pops out from behind the Moon in an occultation

Venus pops out from behind the Moon in an occultation

Asked by Gary Williams

An occultation is an astronomical event that happens when one celestial object is hidden by another one. For example, you might have heard of the occultation of Saturn by the Moon. What’s happening here is that the ringed planet has just appeared from the limb of our satellite, given the observer’s position on Earth.

Astronomers enjoy an occultation just as much as any other astronomical event and pretty much any body in space can occult another. From Earth, stars can occult planets and in extremely rare cases, one planet will occult another – however, this hasn’t occurred since January 1818. The next event of this kind, which will be between Venus and Jupiter, should be in November 2065.

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