Opportunities to witness space phenomena in Singapore may be few and far between, but you don’t have to wait for the stars to align. In fact, if you look up at the sky over the next six nights, you might actually catch a glimpse of celestial bodies in magnificent alignment.
According to a media statement by Science Centre Singapore released on Thursday (June 13), the moon, Jupiter and Saturn will form up in a straight line from June 14 to 19 – a rare occurrence that can be observed with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope.
The phenomenon will take place while the moon is in the waxing gibbous phase and can be best viewed after 11pm, the centre said.
Science Centre noted that although Jupiter can be observed unassisted throughout the year, its relative proximity to Earth will be at its closest in June, and the event only happens once every 13 months.
During the month, the gas giant “should be easily visible” on any night after 8pm when it “rises high enough from almost anywhere in Singapore”, and will remain as such until October. However, a clear view of the night sky is necessary, it said.
The Jupiter Opposition
The “Jupiter Opposition” can also be observed in June as the planet situates itself directly opposite the sun from Earth’s point of view. Opposition occurs when a planet – in this case, Jupiter – lines up with Earth and the sun in a straight line, Science Centre said, adding that the phenomenon happens every 400 days when Jupiter is at its brightest.
Astronomy enthusiasts with telescopes should also look out for the planet’s four largest moons and its famous Great Red Spot, which holds the title of being the largest storm in the Solar System.
Conjunction of Mars and Mercury
Another phenomenon that can be observed is the “conjunction” of Mars and Mercury, when two planets can be viewed just above Earth’s horizon.
During this event, Mercury – in half-phase – and Mars will reflect light from the sun “fully”, allowing observers to see a full circle, Science Centre said.
- Science Centre Singapore
However, witnessing such an event may not be easy.
According to Science Centre, the western sky tends to be “very cloudy these days” and one might need to be in another country that has a clear western sky at sunset to view the phenomenon.
Moreover, Mars will be very low on the horizon with an elevation of just 15 degrees at 7.45pm, when the sky may not be dark enough. By 8pm, the red planet will disappear under trees and buildings and the altitude of the planets after sunset will be roughly the same in any country, making them difficult to spot, it said.
The planets will also be rather dim, with Mercury having a relative brightness of magnitude 0.2 and 1.8 for Mars – the lower the magnitude value, the brighter the planet will look. For context, the apparent magnitude of a full moon is -12.6.
Singapore a prime location for stargazing
Nonetheless, one might not need to resort to travelling to another country to marvel at the heavens.
Science Centre said that any place in Singapore is a potential stargazing site, albeit challenging to find an optimal location because of cloud cover and urban obstructions.
The centre wrote: “The key is to find a spot with a clear view of the sky with no trees or high-rise buildings blocking. It should ideally be as dark as possible as bright lights from the buildings can hamper any stargazing experience.”
“Our neighbourhood parks for instance are good stargazing spots,” it added.
Singapore’s unique locations would allow observers to see constellations such as the Southern Cross and Big Dipper, which are typically visible in the far South and North respectively.
“For example, people in Australia would not be able to see the Big Dipper. Likewise, people in the UK would not be able to see the Southern Cross,” Science Centre wrote.
At various times of the year, the four brightest planets – Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars – can be seen. Although Uranus and Neptune are visible from Earth, the centre noted that they are seldom viewed because of their greater distance away, producing “faint and small” images on telescopes.
Eclipses on the horizon
If you are a fan of eclipses, there will be a variety of those happening the rest of this year.
There will be two different solar eclipses, said Science Centre. One of which is a total solar eclipse on July 2 that is visible only in certain states in the US, while the other is an annular solar eclipse on December 26 which would be “the next big visible celestial phenomenon in Singapore”.
According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a total solar eclipse happens when the moon is between the sun and the Earth, forming a direct straight line. Depending on where you are, the moon would seem to block out the sun completely, leaving only the sun’s corona (its bright outer lining) visible to the eye.
An annular eclipse occurs when the moon is farthest from the Earth but still between it and the sun, resulting in the moons’ shadow looking smaller and an incomplete blocking of the sun.
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