India witnesses longest, darkest lunar eclipse

Last Updated: Thursday, June 16, 2011 - 00:58

Charuta Bapat

Tonight (June 15) is the darkest night in 40 years.

No, it is not due to the dark Monsoon clouds that have already started covering the sky, but a far more powerful drama enacted by three celestial bodies, the Moon, the Sun and Earth.

The longest and darkest total lunar eclipse of the century spanning a duration from Wednesday night-Thursday morning, has given sky enthusiasts all over the world an opportunity to witness the event.

People from more than half the world, from eastern Africa to western Australia, have an opportunity to watch this Lunar Eclipse from beginning till the end. It is visible also from eastern Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. In mid-eclipse, the Moon will be over Mauritius. However, it will not be visible from North America, according to the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) in Pune.

“This time, the lunar eclipse will be the darkest after 40 years, as the centres of Sun, the Earth and the Moon would nearly be in one straight line. The earlier darkest lunar eclipse was observed on August 6, 1971. And if you miss it this time, the next chance will be after 47 years, that is on June 6, 2058,” said Arvind Paranjape, the Scientific Officer from IUCAA.

When asked what causes such a situation, he said, “The main reason for the darkest lunar eclipse is the perfect alignment of the solar system bodies. As said earlier, the Sun, Earth and Moon will be perfectly in one line. And the atmosphere plays its role too to make the eclipsed Moon really very dark. This eclipse of June 15th is also likely to be one of the darkest one due to the ashes thrown in the Earth`s atmosphere by the recent eruption of Iceland`s most active volcano, Grimsvotn.”

“The partial lunar eclipse on June 15 will start at 11.53 pm (IST) and will end at 3.32 am (IST). Nehru Planetarium will be making arrangement to view the lunar eclipse through the Telescope,” said Suhas Naik-Satam, the Scientific Programme Coordinator of Nehru Planetarium.

Nehru Planetarium Director N Rathnasree had said, the total lunar eclipse will begin at 00:52:30 IST and end at 02:32:42 IST. "The total phase of the lunar eclipse will be about 100 minutes. The last eclipse to exceed this duration was in July 2000," she said.

“Interestingly, the moon will appear reddish during the eclipse phase. This is because some of the red rays escape or come out of earth’s atmosphere reach the moon and give the eclipsed moon the same red colour,” said Paranjape from IUCAA.

Explaining what exactly happens during such kind of eclipse, Paranjape said, “The Moon will come in the penumbral shadow of Earth. And nothing much will be noticeable to the untrained eyes for next 30 to 40 minutes. After that one might notice a gradual change in the brightness on the lunar disk. By 11.53 the Moon will be in the ‘umbra’ that’s the dark shadow of the Earth. The dark shadow will progress on the lunar disk slowly covering the entire moon.”

Also, a star named 51 Ophiuchi gets occulted during the eclipse.

Enthusiasts can witness the whole sequence of the occultation in the zodiacal constellation of Ophiuchus. “At 11:29 pm today, the Moon will occulted (hide) behind the star 51 Ophiuchi. The star will reappear after 90 minutes at 01:01 am of June 16,” said N Sri Raghunandan Kumar of Planetary Society of India.

Science Popularisation Association of Communicators and Educators (SPACE), an NGO, is working to break the myths and superstitions associated with the celestial phenomenon.

Many people still believe that eating food during eclipse harms the body. SPACE will encourage eating during the eclipse and then reporting the condition of your health before and after the phenomena. This cumulative report will be sent to UNESCO, SPACE PRO Mila Mitra said.

You can see the eclipse with the naked eye. Don’t miss this spectacular event.

- With PTI Inputs



First Published: Thursday, June 16, 2011 - 00:58

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