More celestial shows next month: Solar eclipse, asteroid flyby

More celestial shows next month: Solar eclipse, asteroid flyby
A solar eclipse was captured in Austria in 2015.
PHOTO: AFP

The first few months of 2016 have presented exciting opportunities to view awesome sky events.

If you have seen the fascinating alignment of five planets recently, get ready for more celestial shows - an asteroid flypast on March 5, an alignment of Jupiter, Earth and the Sun on March 8 and a solar eclipse the next day.

Asteroid flyby on March 5

A rare astronomical event will occur next month, but you'll probably not be able to see it with the naked eye. On March 5 (US date), a 30-metre wide asteroid could make a close flyby Earth.

First spotted in 2013, the asteroid could fly as close as 17,700 km from Earth, or roughly 1/20th the distance from Earth to the moon, according to scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, reported Reuters.

But given the uncertainty on the precise path of the asteroid, known as 2013 TX68, it also could end up as far as 14 million km from Earth during its flyby.

NASA said there is a one-in-250 million chance of a collision during the asteroid's next pass on Sep 28, 2017, but that probability could be reduced in future observances.

Meanwhile, Asteroid Day 2016 was launched at a press conference on Feb 9. The aim of the special day is to create global awareness about asteroids and what people from all over the world can do to protect our planet.

It is held annually on June 30, the anniversary of the largest impact of an asteroid on Earth in recent history, the 1908 Tunguska, Siberia event.



Catch Jupiter at its brightest, and solar eclipse

Next, catch Jupiter at its fullest and brightest after 9pm on March 8 when it is aligned with Earth and the Sun. Then observe the total solar eclipse which will be visible partially here the next morning.

The eclipse is expected to start at around 8am and wane to an end at 11.30am. At the peak of the rare event here, up to nearly 90 per cent of the sun will be obscured by the moon.

The phenomenon can be seen anywhere on the island that has an unobstructed view of the eastern horizon, at a compass heading of approximately 94 degrees, said the Science Centre. Eclipses occur roughly about every 18 months, usually in different parts of the world.


This Nasa map shows the path of the solar eclipse across Earth's surface. The northern and southern path limits are blue and the central line is red.

Don't get blinded by sun gazing

The safest way to view an eclipse is indirectly, said experts in media reports on past eclipses.

Eye specialists have warned people and selfie-takers not to watch an eclipse without proper protection. Even if the sun is in eclipse, its radiation can still burn the retina, and cause permanent eye damage, including blindness.

They also cautioned eclipse watchers against using cameras or binoculars to look directly at the sun. Even sunglasses or colour bottles are not safe.

Safe ways to watch an eclipse include the use of special eclipse glasses and a pinhole camera to project the occurrence on a piece of paper. A webcam coverage is safer still, said experts in reports.

For eclipse safety and webcams, visit: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEhelp/safety.html

Where to catch a total eclipse

Parts of Indonesia will experience a total solar eclipse on March 9, but for a short period.

They include Ternate in the remote Maluku spice islands (up to 2 min and 44 sec) and Palu in Sulawesi (about 2 min and 50 sec), reported The Straits Times, Indonesia is the only land crossed by the eclipse, according to Astro Trails (www.astro-trails.com), which organises eclipse tours.

Solar eclipse cruises will also originate in Singapore. Tropical Sails (www.tropicalsails.com) has an eclipse sighting at sea, besides sojourns in Lombok and the Komodo islands.

Planetary alignment

If you still have not seen the rare astronomical alignment of five planets Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Venus and Mercury, you have till the end of this month to do so.

Just gaze at the night skies to see them appearing brightly together for the first time in a decade.

chenj@sph.com.sg




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