The heavens have lined up what promises to be a surreal experience on the night of June 15/16 – the darkest lunar eclipse to be seen in India this century and one whose total phase will last an unusually long 100 minutes. The eclipse will be visible across the country.
Lunar eclipses are far less spectacular than eclipses of the sun and generate comparatively less enthusiasm among astro-buffs. But Wednesday night’s spectacle promises to be different.
While in most lunar eclipses, the Moon turns brown – appearing like a burnt toast – the celestial alignment on June 15 is so straight that the Moon will turn almost black as it works its way to the dark part of Earth’s shadow (called umbra).
“In areas far away from the glare of city lights, the eclipsed Moon should appear like a dark round void in the sky,” said astro-photographer Ajay Talwar. In big cities, however, the Moon is likely to become invisible during most of the total phase, he said.
In eclipses visible from India, the last time the Moon passed through such a dark part of the Earth’s umbra was 40 years ago, on August 6, 1971.
A darker eclipse will happen next only in year 2141, although an eclipse in 2058 will be just a shade lighter than the June 15/16 spectacle.
The total phase of the eclipse will begin at 12.52am (on June 16), reach its peak at 1.42am when the lunar disc will be at its darkest, and end at 2.32am.
The last eclipse to exceed this duration took place in July 2000.
In places where the night sky is very dark, the black disk of the Moon will be visible in the foreground of the Milky Way – an intensely starry region that appears as a white band across the sky – in the Sagittarius constellation.
To capture this surreal scene, Talwar, who is also vice-president of the Amateur Astronomers Association, Delhi, is organizing a sky watch near Ranikhet in the Kumaon hills, where participants will witness the spectacle in pristine skies with the help of a large telescope and a live screen.
In the capital, the Teen Murti lawns will be the venue for an all-night Moon Carnival. Here, enthusiasts will be taught how to make lunar observations and take part in activities well ahead of the eclipse.
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