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A Night You Can Look Up

THE midnight moon at the zenith of the UAE sky on Tuesday, Jan. 9 will be totally eclipsed by the earth's shadow for over an hour in the first lunar eclipse of the millennium, century and year 2001, astronomers and stargazers, said.

The first sky show of the new millennium will be well placed for observers in the UAE to watch for over five hours from 9.43.28 pm on Tuesday to 2.57.31 the next morning, Dr Nidhal Guessoum, assistant professor in astrophysics at the American University of Sharjah, said.

The penumbral eclipse will begin at 9.43.28 pm local time and turn into a partial eclipse at 10.42 pm. The total eclipse will begin at 11.49.29 pm and will last until 12.51.31 am on Wednesday. The biggest eclipse is at 12.20.30 am on Wednesday, the scientist said. In the second half of the eclipse, the partial eclipse ends at 1.59.01 am and the penumbral eclipse ends at 2.57.31 am on Wednesday, he said.

According to Guessoum, the total eclipse will last 62 minutes with the first penumbral contact. "Penumbra and umbra are the partial and total earth shadow periods falling on the moon. In penumbra, the moon is not well-lit. Although, it can all be seen, it is pale. In umbra, the moon is really being eclipsed and so it starts to get covered slowly until it disappears totally. In fact, at total eclipse, the moon can still be seen in a very pale reddish colour, which is due to a little sunlight being refracted or deflected by the earth's atmosphere towards the moon. So the moon is still indirectly lit by reddish rays," he explained.

He also said that a lunar eclipse always occurs at full moon. At the instant of mid-eclipse or the biggest eclipse at 20 minutes past midnight on Tuesday, the moon will lie in the zenith for the UAE observers, he added.

UAE-based stargazers, meanwhile, are preparing to watch the full sky show which will be totally visible throughout the country. Weathermen also forecast a clear sky so that the celestial show will be clear for viewers.

Mohamed Talib Al Sallami, chairman of the ADCO Astronomy Club of Abu Dhabi, said they are organising a special show at Abu Dhabi Corniche in which the whole episode will be shot with a sophisticated telescopic camera and projected live on a giant screen. The public can watch the show on screen throughout the eclipse, Sallami said.

In Sharjah, the Sharjah Science Museum (SSM) will hold special shows in the planetarium for the visitors, Ghada Abdullah Ali and Bushra, instructors, said. The number of shows depends on the number of visitors, they added. Guessoum also said he will join the SSM show. The planetarium regularly organises sky shows whenever there is a special occasion like an eclipse.

For amateur astronomers, during totality, the Milky Way and winter constellation will be well placed for viewing on Tuesday night. Jupiter, Saturn and the Pleiades form an attractive trio in Taurus, about 50 degrees west of the moon, Guessoum said.

By Mohan Vadayar (Gulf Today)

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