Rare astronomical phenomenon tonight

James Kon

A rare Mars occultation will be visible in the Brunei sky tonight where the Red Planet will disappear behind the crescent of the moon.

The moon will pass in front of Mars creating a lunar occultation visible only from a small region of central Asia including Brunei Darussalam, the Astronomical Society of Brunei Darussalam (PABD) said yesterday.

The society said from the naked eye, Mars will look like a bright “red star” close to the moon at around 8pm. It will get “interestingly closer” to the moon by 9pm before disappearing at 9.29pm.

Telescopes or binoculars will enhance the view, the PABD said.

An occultation is an astronomical phenomenon when one object is obscured by another object that passes between it and the observer.

Mars will slip behind the moon’s dark side and will be visible to the naked eye. From Brunei, the moon will be very low on the horizon. Lunar gazers must be at a location with an unobstructed view of the Western sky.

Since moon is the nearest cosmic neighbour to Earth, it regularly passes in front of planets or bright stars. But an occultation by the moon and Mars from the same location on Earth is an exceedingly rare occurrence. It is often described as a “perfect planet alignment”

The last Mars occultation from Brunei occurred in May 2008. The next in Brunei is set to take place 77 years later, on February 7, 2098.