Astronomy enthusiasts gather for lunar eclipse

  • Nation
  • Thursday, 06 May 2004


PENANG: Overcast skies, which hampered the viewing of the total lunar eclipse from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), did not deter some 30 moon-gazers from waiting till 5.30am yesterday to catch the event. 

Armed with telescopes, cameras and computers, the astronomy enthusiasts gathered at the Palapes field from midnight to capture the event, when the Earth was exactly between the sun and the moon. 

The total lunar eclipse, which was the first of two this year, was supposed to have been visible in the country from 1.50am to 7.09am. 

The next total lunar eclipse is due on Oct 28 but it can only be observed in North and South America.  

USM Astronomy Club adviser Dr Chong Hon Yew said the sky cleared to render a good view of the moon after a heavy downpour shortly after midnight. 

“However, our hopes were dashed when a thick layer of cloud suddenly covered the moon a couple of minutes before the moon entered the Earth’s penumbra (shadow) at 1.50am,” he added. 

However, he said the observation was much better from Rantau, Negri Sembilan, where club member Chin Wei Loon and his friend Gradient Lok were able to capture a significant portion of the eclipse on slide and digital photos respectively. 

Dr Chong said the Earth’s shadow started inching over the moon at 1.50am with the total eclipse starting at 3.52am and lasting till 4.30am, when it was at its maximum. 

The total eclipse only ended at 5.08am, with the Earth’s shadow slowing moving away from the moon, and the eclipse was finally over at 7.09am. 

“At maximum eclipse, the moon will take a strange appearance with an orange-red colour. This shows that there is not much dust particles in the Earth’s atmosphere. 

“On the other hand, should the moon have a very dark appearance during the eclipse, this means that the atmosphere is full of dust particles ejected during a volcanic explosion somewhere on Earth. 

“This year’s lunar eclipse was also quite long as it lasted an hour and 16 minutes,” Dr Chong said. 

He said that Chin, a final-year Physics student at Universiti Malaya, drove with Lok to Rantau, about 15 minutes from Seremban at 2am after being unable to view the eclipse in Kuala Lumpur. 

“These two avid astro-photographers were lucky to observe and photograph the total phase of the eclipse with their telescopes,” he added. 

Dr Chong said astronomy enthusiasts from Johor also reported that they could not observe the eclipse due to the cloudy conditions there. 

The lunar eclipse observation at USM was jointly organised by the Astronomy Section of USM’s Museum and Gallery, its Astronomy and Atmospheric Science Research Unit and its Astronomy Club. 

Dr Chong said a rare astronomical event known as “The Transit of Venus across the Sun” would be observable from Penang from 1.13pm to 7.25pm on June 8. 

This event, which occurs once in more than a hundred years, would be observed at USM’s Museum and Gallery. 

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