Science Briefs: Rare supermoon eclipse to happen on Sept 28

A rare blood moon sighted at mid-eclipse on June 15, 2011, during the longest total lunar eclipse in 10 years.
A rare blood moon sighted at mid-eclipse on June 15, 2011, during the longest total lunar eclipse in 10 years. PHOTO: SCIENCE CENTRE

Rare supermoon eclipse to happen on Sept 28

For the first time in over 30 years, some people will get the chance to witness a supermoon, in combination with a total lunar eclipse, sometimes known as a blood moon.

It can't be seen in Singapore, however, because the event will occur during the day here. It will be visible in North and South America, Europe, Africa, as well as parts of West Asia and the eastern Pacific, according to a Nasa article published on its website last week.

The lunar eclipse will last one hour and 12 minutes, and will happen next Monday at 10.11am, Singapore time.

For more than an hour, Earth's shadow will swallow the moon, as the planet comes between the sun and the moon.

Lunar eclipses typically occur at least twice a year, with 228 to occur in the 21st century alone.

A supermoon appears once every year, and people here will still be able to enjoy the bigger and brighter supermoon lighting up the Singapore skies that night.

According to Dr Noah Petro, deputy project scientist for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter at Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, the Earth will have the closest full moon of the year during the occurrence.

When the moon is farthest away, it is known as apogee, and when it is closest, it is known as perigee.

At perigee, the moon is about 31,000 miles (49,889.7 km) closer to Earth than at apogee, which makes the moon appear 14 per cent larger and 30 per cent brighter in the sky. That sparked the term "supermoon".

The supermoon and a lunar eclipse only occur simultaneously once every few decades. The last such combination occurred in 1982, and the next will not take place until 2033.

Despite its rarity, Dr Petro said the event is not a cause for concern, despite some people believing that it ends in tragedy.

"The only thing that will happen on Earth during an eclipse is that people will wake up the next morning with neck pain because they spent the night looking up."

Noise may shorten lives of sparrows: Study

The noise of cars honking and zooming through the streets may shorten the lifespan of sparrows growing up near the clamour.

Researchers from France's National Centre for Scientific Research noticed that chicks conceived and raised in the din of city traffic have shorter caps on their chromosomes, than those reared in a quieter place.

Often likened to shoelace tips, these protective ends - dubbed telomeres - can predict how cells age. Numerous studies have shown a link between longer telomeres and a longer life.

"Our results provide the first experimental evidence that noise alone can affect a wild (animal's) early-life telomere length," said the study published in the Royal Society's journal Biology Letters.

For the experiment, researchers blasted pre-recorded traffic noise six hours a day, seven days a week, at the chicks' parents, then at the 21 baby birds themselves. Another 16 chicks were born and raised in the relative quiet of the French countryside.

When the chicks in both groups were just nine days old, scientists gave the baby birds a full physical exam, which included harvesting their telomeres. They found that chicks reared near the racket had "significantly shorter telomeres".

The team was not sure why noise hurts telomeres, but speculated it may disrupt the chicks' sleep and cause them stress. They could not actually measure whether birds in the quiet group lived longer.

"We tracked the chicks only up to their first flight. It would be interesting to follow them longer to see how long it takes for the shorter telomeres to have an impact on the birds' lives," said study co-author Alizee Meillere.

The effect on bird telomeres adds to the list of negative impacts of noise pollution on wild creatures.

"Noise interferes with acoustic communication, which is very important, especially for birds," Dr Meillere said.

"In a noisy place, they are unable to find a good partner, they can't hear their chicks and feed them when needed," she added.

Scientists believe that as telomeres wear down, so too does the protection they give to chromosomes, impairing DNA replication and boosting the risk of cellular malfunction and diseases, including cancer.


Compiled by Samantha Boh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2015, with the headline 'ScienceBriefs'. Subscribe