Three celestial spectacles to look forward to

Three celestial spectacles to look forward to

Three celestial spectacles to look forward to

Have you ever seen the stars and planets playing a game of hide and seek? It makes for a fine visual treat. Fortunately, the month of March is going to provide three such opportunities, wherein one can view this game unfold high up in the sky.

The first one would be in the early hours of March 9. In Bengaluru, the Sun will rise at 06:32 am and two minutes later, when the full orange disc is visible, you will notice that the lower (eastern) edge is chipped off. That is the ending phase of the solar eclipse, which will be barely visible for a few minutes. We all know that looking at the Sun directly can cause irreparable damages to one’s eye, but looking at the rising Sun is relatively safe. But one should ensure that the viewing should be over by 6:42 am, beyond which the Sun’s glow can damage the retina.

And after all, the eclipse would also be over by this time. The southeast coast of India may enjoy the view for a couple of minutes longer. But the real treat of the day turning into night is for Borneo and Sumatra. The islands of Indonesia and a specific location in the Pacific will experience the longest possible (about four minutes) darkness during noon.

Under the shadow

The next spectacle would be the Moon  moving into the shadow of Earth 15 days later, on the dusk of Holi. This would be the penumbral lunar eclipse, a phenomenon that occurs when the Moon passes through the penumbra, the outermost edges of the Earth’s shadow. The Moon will appear to get darker, but will not take on the typical red hue of a total lunar eclipse. Again, the show is for about half an hour only. But you could enjoy the spectacular Moon rise later. You should know that a small decrease in the brightness may or may not be noticeable. The Moon will move through the relatively less bright portion of the shadow (penumbra) till about 7:30 pm. So, it will be a challenge to recognise the eclipse itself.

Another event of the month involves the Moon and a star. During the dusk of March 14, take a look at the Moon which has grown beyond crescent but not yet hemispherical as yet. If you pay close attention, you will see a bright red star — Aldebaran or Rohini close to the Moon. By about 8 pm, the southern edge of the Moon will look like it is almost touching the star. This event, called occultation, is exactly identical to a solar eclipse, but with the Sun being replaced by a star. However for people in Bengaluru, it will be a grazing occultation. Places situated north of Karnataka will see the star actually disappearing behind the Moon. People in Belagavi and Bidar can enjoy this phenomenon only for a few minutes, while those in Mumbai can look at it for about 32 minutes. The duration of disappearance gradually increases to about 1 hour 12 minutes in Delhi and 1 hour 15 minutes in Srinagar.

It is very interesting to watch the star suddenly disappear behind the Moon mainly because that edge of the Moon is not lit. This technique is effectively used for estimating the diameter of the star. After a while, the Moon moves away and the star emerges out. This event, called reappearance, happens on the bright edge. It is difficult to guess from which spot along the edge it reappears, and when it does, it looks like a red stud on the shiny crescent.

Telescope owners can watch the star disappear and leave the telescope to track the star. The exact instant when it appears from behind the moon can be monitored through the telescope.

All the three events are challenges and good opportunities for using your skills with telescopes and cameras. Even if you don’t own a telescope, you can still enjoy the spectacles with naked eyes.