Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Malaysians witness, a solar eclipse

Malaysians can witness a solar eclipse today from 4.30pm to 7pm. The National Planetarium will have a special programme from 4pm to give the public a chance to see the eclipse as it happens, the National Space Agency said in a statement. Although only a part of the eclipse can be seen in Malaysia, enthusiasts will be able to see the moon obscuring 52% to 82% of the sun depending on their location.

A solar eclipse happens when the moon passes directly in front of the sun. Due to the relative distances, the sun would appear as a very bright ring behind the moon, resulting in an annular eclipse. the full annular eclipse, so called because at its peak the eclipse is surrounded by an annulus, or ring, of fiery light. Because the moon's orbit is elliptical, its distance from Earth and thus its apparent size varies over time. Annular eclipses happen when the moon looks too small to completely cover the sun, an event that occurs about 66 times a century. The next such occurence would be in 2026.

“The eclipse will begin at about 4.30pm in Malaysia when the moon first touches the sun’s disk,” the agency said.

The celestial spectacle will be more visible when the moon slowly covers the sun to form a crescent shape until maximum obscuration occurs at about 5.50pm.

“At its final contact around 6.55pm, the moon’s shadow slowly disappears just before sunset,” the agency said.

Geocosmic Centre of Yijing Meta-Science Research Malaysia academic consultant Dr Chuah Chong Cheng said solar and lunar eclipses during Chinese New Year were a rare phenomenon.

“The same thing happened last year when a solar eclipse occurred on the first day of Chinese New Year on Feb 7 and the penumbral lunar one on Chap Goh Meh.”

Dr Chuah said for those who are superstitious, the solar and lunar eclipses could mean “double jeopardy”.

University Sains Malaysia’s Astronomy Atmospheric Science Unit lecturer Assoc Prof Chong Hon Yew advised people not to look directly at the sun but to use a solar filter when observing the eclipse or see its reflection in a pail of water so as not to damage their eyes.


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