SINGAPORE: Heads up stargazers, another celestial phenomenon is about to take place at the end of this month.
After being treated to the historical super blue blood moon in January, astronomy enthusiasts in Singapore are looking forward to the longest total lunar eclipse of the century on Jul 28, which also coincides with the Mars opposition.
This means that skywatchers will be able to gaze at both planet Mars and a total lunar eclipse at the same time.
The lunar eclipse begins in the wee hours of Jul 28 morning, from 1.14am, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The total lunar eclipse will last one hour and 43 minutes and can be viewed from 3.30am to 5.13am. That is only four minutes shy of the longest possible duration for a total lunar eclipse, which is one hour and 47 minutes, according to Mr Albert Ho, president of the Astronomy Society of Singapore (TASOS).
The last time a total lunar eclipse lasted nearly as long was on Jul 16, 2000, with a total duration of one hour and 46 minutes, according to NASA's data.
Similar to the super blue blood moon, the moon on Jul 28 will appear red during the eclipse. However, it will also appear smaller this time.
"This total lunar eclipse also coincides with the lunar apogee when the moon is furthest from the earth," said Dr Abel Yang, a lecturer from the Department of Physics, Faculty of Science, National University of Singapore. "At apogee, the moon will appear slightly smaller because it is farther from the Earth. This is the opposite effect of a supermoon."
The moon also moves slower when it is farthest from Earth, said Dr Yang. This explains its long duration.
The total lunar eclipse will also coincide with the Mars opposition, said Mr Remus Chua, an astrophotographer and founder of the Singapore Astronomy Forum (SingAstro). The opposition takes place every two years or so and occurs when Mars, Earth and the Sun form a straight line during the course of their orbits, he added.
When this happens, Mr Chua said Mars will be "about five times brighter than usual" and this will make visual observations through telescopes "easy and interesting".
Mars will also appear as a "reddish star close to the moon", according to Mr Ho.
A Science Centre Singapore spokesman said Mars will come very close to the moon in the early morning of Jul 28.
GETTING READY FOR THE ECLIPSE, MARS
Several astronomy events will take place in Singapore from the evening of Jul 27 to the morning of Jul 28.
All spots for a special viewing event by the Science Centre have been snapped up, a spokesman said, with a total of 120 adults and 80 children aged seven to 12 registered for the free event funded by SkillsFuture. There is also a long waiting list of people who are interested in the event - held at the Lifelong Learning Institute - but have not registered, the spokesman added.
At another special viewing, about 500 people are expected to turn up at Marina South Pier for the MARS-LE: Mars opposition and Lunar Eclipse event organised by SingAstro. Twelve telescopes will be available at the venue.
Meanwhile, TASOS will be giving a talk on eclipses at the Science Centre Observatory classroom on Jul 27.
Several photographers are also expected to capture images of the eclipse and Mars. However, capturing an image of the moon this time might be trickier since it will be smaller than the super blue blood moon, a name coined for the combination of a blue moon, a supermoon and a total lunar eclipse.
"The lunar eclipse or blood moon is the iconic image of the phenomena and you'll need a long telephoto lens of around 300mm and a sturdy tripod to (capture the image)," said photographer Joe Nair.
A high-resolution camera would be a bonus, he added. "The moon moves faster than you think. Without a decently high shutter speed of at least 1/80 sec, there will be motion blur."
He added: "The good news about the upcoming eclipse is that you have a lot of time to work out the settings that will work best."
The total lunar eclipse on Jul 28 can also be viewed from South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia, according to NASA.
The next total lunar eclipse will take place on Jan 21 next year but will not be visible from Singapore as it will happen during daylight, said Dr Yang. Science Centre said that the moon in the next lunar eclipse will stay red for only 62 minutes.
Singapore will have to wait until May 26, 2021, for the next total lunar eclipse visible from the country, said TASOS.