Calling all amateur astronomers: today is the day for the next big cosmic event involving the moon. The Total Solar Eclipse did not disappoint, as the world was abuzz, and people showed up in droves to catch a glimpse of the once-in-a-lifetime event. Hotels were sold out, traffic was delayed by hours, and there were countless articles on where to buy or make at home safe viewing glasses. Beginning yesterday and continuing through today, the moon is in the middle of another rare event, and this time it is blocking our sight of the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, and our neighboring star Regulus rather than that the sun.

An 'occult' following

Despite sounding extremely technical, the word occult is simply when one object hides another object by passing in front of it, relative to the observer. In other words, an object passing in front of any other object. (No, there is no correlation to THIS occult). A Solar Eclipse is a prime example of an occultation; it is the act of the moon occulting, or blocking, the sun. Of course, there are occultations all the time, but what makes this one so rare (once every 28 years approximately), is how many objects are involved in such a short time.

The great cosmic block party

The moon has already passed in front of Venus and the bright Regulus last night and early this morning, respectively.

It is scheduled to block Mars at 4 PM EST and Mercury at 7 PM EST today. This will be best observed in countries such as Indonesia, New Zealand, and Australia, though star-gazers from North America, and all over the world, should not fret. As long as you are able to see the moon, you should get a decent view of tonight's action.

As cool aesthetically as occultations can be, they also serve some purpose in the scientific community. Our models of the solar system and beyond are already pretty "stellar" considering the short time frame we have been observing it, but they are not perfect. Occultations give us a unique perspective on celestial bodies and help us to refine their positioning.

The International Occultation Timing Association (or IOTA) tracks all kinds of occultations and helps to improve our collective scientific knowledge as well as promoting cosmic interest in the general public. Their work is well documented, and are often published in scientific journals.

Whether you are a casual stargazer only looking for something cool to observe or an astronomy buff hoping to unlock the secrets of the cosmos, today's occultation certainly has something for you.