Bringing Science Down to Earth

On one dark, overcast night, more than three thousand souls gathered in the heart of Kuala Lumpur under the glow of a full moon. An intimidating blood-coloured moon, like that of the eye of the devil, would illuminate the Earthly terrain beneath it.


Fear not, nobody was transformed into werewolves that night. Far from being a folkloric fiction, these National Planetarium visitors were expecting a lunar phenomenon – the Super Blue Blood Moon.



Photos of the moon were taken by brothers Alif dan Anif Abdul Fatah who live in Putatan, Sabah, through their own telescopes.

Looming again since 152 years ago, three lunar episodes concurred on 31st of January. Firstly, a supermoon, where the Moon is unusually closer to the Earth, making it appear extraordinarily larger and brighter. This occurs three to four times a year. The second event is a blue moon, signifying the second full moon of the month. A blue moon occurs once every 2.7 years.


Third was the fiery, blood-colour appearance of the moon during a total lunar eclipse because of how the Earth atmosphere bends its light.


Unfortunately, the supermoon ensconced itself behind the gray clouds on the night of Thaipusam, depriving astronomy enthusiasts at the National Planetarium of the opportunity to witness the rare lunatic “feast” themselves.


Nevertheless our National Planetarium was prepared for any undesired possibilities. The staff set up five astronomical telescopes at the entrance for public visitors. Several more were brought in by the visitors themselves of which they generously shared with others.


If the weather was not permitting, they would still be able to watch a stimulated eclipse performed by the Sky Stimulation Dome in the Space Theatre. Those who are not physically present would be able to stream it live from the planetarium’s Facebook page. Almost a million netizens enjoyed this facility, including a live stream from the Langkawi National Observatory where the sky is relatively free from light pollution in contrast with the cities, and NASA TV webpage.


An infograogif of the Super Blue Blood Moon phenomenon by ANGKASA Malaysia.

Besides the National Planetarium in Kuala Lumpur and the National Observatory in Langkawi, around the country, other main observation sites for this phenomenon include but not limited to the Teluk Kemang Observatory in Negeri Sembilan, Masjid Putra in Putrajaya, Selangor Observatory in Selangor, Pantai Tok Jembal in Terengganu, Sultan Iskandar Planetarium in Sarawak and Menara Tun Mustapha in Sabah.


It was indeed an astronomical event for residents in Asia, Australia, United States and Russia. The Super Blue Blood Moon is not only a historic lunatic event; it was also historic for our National Planetarium.


More than 3,000 visitors were recorded that evening, filling every nook and cranny of the centre, spilling out from the 200-seat capacity dome. It was one of the planetarium’s most popular events since opening its doors in 1994! The next one is expected to take place in 2037 so most of us probably would not want to miss the 2018.


But an even more interesting observation was how much interest and excitement this phenomenon has generated among Malaysians. Overcrowding at football stadiums, concerts and shopping malls are all too often being heard of. But overcrowding at a planetarium?


Some visitors brought their own telescope to the National Planetarium. Photo credit: Bernama Online.
Visitors could observe the phenomenon from the Sky Stimulation Dome. Photo credit: National Planetarium.

Human beings throughout the ages have been very curious about the abnormal happenings in the heavens. They consider them harbingers of momentous events on earth, as evident in many instances in history and folklore in both the East and West.


But far from having superstitious beliefs, the world now turn to scientific explanations for the natural observations around us. I am reminded of the inquisitive spirit of Galileo Galilei, an Italian astronomer born in the age of Renaissance. He was well known for investigating the laws of motion and improving the telescope of which he eventually used to discover heavenly bodies in our galaxy.


An excerpt from In Galileo’s book “Starry Messenger” published in 1610 demonstrated how his curiosity and an eye for detail led him to conclude that there were three stars revolving around planet Jupiter:


“On the 7th day of January in the present year, 1610, in the first hour of the following night, when I was viewing the constellations of the heavens through a telescope, the planet Jupiter presented itself to my view, and as I had prepared for myself a very excellent instrument, I noticed a circumstance which I had never been able to notice before, namely that three little stars, small but very bright, were near the planet; and although I believed them to belong to a number of the fixed stars, yet they made me somewhat wonder, because they seemed to be arranged exactly in a straight line, parallel to the ecliptic, and to be brighter than the rest of the stars, equal to them in magnitude…”


The National Planetarium has “brought science down to earth” for our understanding. The Super Blue Blood Moon event could be seen as an appetiser for us to know our celestial world further and even other phenomenon. We need to relearn to give ourselves free rein in our intrinsic imagination and curiosity.


On a lighter note, what is the portent of the bloody red moon for 2018? More bloodshed in wars around the world?


How fortunate Malaysia is : An oasis of peace and harmony!

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