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Lunar New Year

Spring Lantern Festival brings rare lunar eclipse to Hong Kong, but set your alarm or you’ll miss it

Astronomical event will start at 6.32am on Saturday, only 22 minutes before moon sets

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 February, 2017, 9:36am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 February, 2017, 5:21am

A penumbral lunar eclipse will occur on the morning of the Spring Lantern Festival on Saturday, but an unusually small viewing window means local moon gazers will have to rise early if they want to catch a glimpse of it.

The event will start at 6.32am – only 22 minutes before the moon sets and 25 minutes before sunrise.

This means spectators in the city will have just those 22 minutes to view the eclipse, according to the Hong Kong Observatory. And they will be able to catch only the start of the astronomical event, which will last about four hours and 20 minutes.

A penumbral lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes through the penumbra, or partial shadow, of the Earth without entering the umbra, or total shadow.

It can be difficult to observe, as the moon merely appears to become slightly dimmer, rather than having the eclipse extend across its entire face, as in a total eclipse, or appearing to have a dark “bite” taken out of it, as in a partial one.

Moreover, as Saturday’s event will occur close to sunrise at 6.57am, the break of dawn will also make it less visible, the Observatory said.

It advised spectators to look for locations with unobstructed view of the horizon to the west. Observers in the western regions of the city will enjoy a longer show as the moon sets later there.

The maximum eclipse happens at 8.44am, and the event ends at 10.55am, when the moon leaves the penumbra, with both coming too late for local viewers.

A penumbral eclipse was last seen on the Spring Lantern Festival on February 9, 2009. The next lunar eclipse observable in Hong Kong will be a partial eclipse on August 7 this year.

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The Lantern Festival, also known as Chinese Valentine’s Day, traditionally falls on the 15th and final day of the Lunar New Year period. It marks the first full moon of the Chinese calendar, symbolising the start of spring and reunion with family.