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'Blood Moon' reveals itself to Sabah skywatchers
Published on: Sunday, July 29, 2018

Kota Kinabalu: Sky gazers in Sabah had the rare opportunity of witnessing an orange-red "blood moon" and Mars or the Red Planet appearing next to each other in the second total lunar eclipse this year since the first in January.Social media, too, went abuzz in the wee hours with updates of the rare phenomenon and some even tried to capture it using smartphone cameras.

The total eclipse lasted for 1 hour 43 minutes, making it the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century.

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the sun, earth and moon are aligned and the moon enters the Earth's umbra – the darker, central part of the Earth's shadow.

The moon changed from white to a reddish hue and then returned to its original colour over a five-hour period.

The penumbral eclipse (the lighter, outer part of the Earth's shadow (penumbra) moved across the Moon) began at 1.14am with the maximum eclipse (mid-point of totality) at 4.21am and the penumbral eclipse (the penumbra moved away from the Moon) ended at 7.28am.

Malaysians were lucky as they were able to witness the spectacle but only certain places in the country – Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Terengganu, Johor Bahru, Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi – witnessed the entire seven phases of the eclipse. Mars shone bright all night as it was at its closest point to Earth since 2003 – visible as a "bright red star" when the skies were clear.

Mars appeared unusually large and bright, a mere 57.7 million kilometres (35.9 million miles) from Earth on its elliptical orbit around the sun.

A total lunar eclipse happens when Earth takes position in a straight line between the moon and sun, blotting out the direct sunlight that normally makes our satellite glow whitish-yellow.

The moon travels to a similar position every month, but the tilt of its orbit means it normally passes above or below the Earth's shadow – so most months we have a full moon without an eclipse.

When the three celestial bodies are perfectly lined up, however, the Earth's atmosphere scatters blue light from the sun while refracting or bending red light onto the moon, usually giving it a rosy blush.

In Jan 31, this year, stargazers were treated to a rare celestial display of a three-in-one phenomenon – a "blue moon" (the second full moon of the month), a supermoon (the Moon is closer to Earth in its orbit) and a "blood moon" (a total lunar eclipse).

The phenomenon dubbed as the "super blue blood moon" was last witnessed in 1866.

Those who missed this event may still catch it on Dec 31, 2028 and Jan 31, 2037. - Ricardo Unto



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