Stargazers treated to year’s last lunar eclipse


KARACHI: The last lunar eclipse of this year was visible on Friday in Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, West Pacific Island and Pakistan, including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, most of Punjab, Balochistan and Sindh. Karachi, too, got a front-row seat for the entire episode, though the skies turned partially cloudy here just ahead of the event.

The eclipse — a penumbral lunar eclipse of 0.9080 magnitude — began at 9.55pm and reached its peak at 11.55pm, when a light shadow of the Earth could be seen on the moon.

“The lunar eclipse always happens on the chaudhveen ka chand or full moon,” said Abdul Rashid, director of the Pakistan Meteorological Department.

“When we say ‘lunar eclipse’, it means you can spot the Earth’s shadow on the moon’s surface when you look at it in the sky, which shouldn’t normally happen because the moon rotates around the Earth and the Earth revolves around the sun.

“Still, sometimes when the Earth’s position is such that it is between the moon and the sun, the eclipses occur,” he explained.

The next lunar eclipse, also a penumbral, will occur on Feb 11

“Had this been an umbral eclipse, the moon would have looked big and reddish orange in colour as the Earth’s shadow on it would have been very deep. But the eclipse or shadow of a penumbral eclipse is lighter though also visible through binoculars or a telescope,” he added.

People with interest in astronomy, and who owned a pair of binoculars or a telescope or could borrow one, were at their windows, terraces or rooftops during the time of the lunar eclipse. Those who didn’t have the equipment but knew of the event and its timing also tried to make out the shadow on the moon with their naked eyes.

“We could have turned it into an occasion, gathering in a place or going somewhere to view the eclipse with our binoculars and telescopes, but it happened rather late and on a week day so nobody travelled far, though we were excited about the whole thing,” said Abubaker Shekhani, an astronomy enthusiast and founding member of the Karachi Astronomers Society.

“Besides, it was not a total eclipse. So astronomy enthusiasts here formed their own small groups all over the city; well, actually they went to whoever had binoculars or a telescope to enjoy the moment. Some individuals also watched it alone,” Shekhani added.

Astronomy, according to Shekhani, is a “pretty big thing” in Pakistan now.

The Karachi Astronomers Society also arranges vans and other vehicles to take its members for sightings to places where there are less city lights and more star light.

“Well, you only need a cloudless sky for watching something as bright and as big as the moon,” Shekhani said. “But for observing the stars and nebulae there is more effort involved.”

The weather forecast, according to the Met Office, was of clear skies for Friday but it became somewhat cloudy just a few hours before the eclipse. “Full moons are always visible after sunset and when has the weather ever been predictable?” he laughed.

The last of the lunar eclipses this year is also being linked to “good things” on the astrological front for all star signs but the astronomy enthusiast said he could not comment on that. “As you may know, astrology is not really a science. It seems more like a superstition to me. And people like us who love science don’t like fake sciences like astrology,” he said.

The next lunar eclipse, also a penumbral, will occur on Feb 11, 2017.


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