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  • Explanation: Penumbral Lunar Eclipse On March 23rd 2016m And Requirements For Sunat Eclipse Prayer (Solat)

On March 23 2016(Wednesday), which is equivalent to 15 Rabiul Awal 1437H, Penumral Lunar Eclipse Penumbra will occur. Generally, the lunar eclipse occurs when the earth prevents sunlight from reaching the moon. It takes place on the full moon phase (al-Istiqbal). In the study of astronomers, the eclipse is an occulation phenomenon. During a lunar eclipse, dark impression that exist on the surface of the moon is the effect of earth’s shadow that fell over the moon. But the earth’s shadow exist in two forms. The first is the umbra shadow (Dzil) and the penumbra (Syibhu Dzil). Umbra is derivedfrom the Latin which means shadow. It refers to the deepest and darkest of the shadows. In the context of a lunar eclipse, the umbra shadow will cause the observer to see a more pronounced effect of the dark. When the moon enters the umbra shadow, the brightness of the moonlight will decrease until the moon would either be black, red or orange.

Penumbra is derived from the combination of two Latin words that is paene to mean almost/near and umbra that means shadow. It refers to the outer silhouette shadow of the earth, where the penumbral shadow that exists is much brighter than the umbra shadow. In other words it is the opposite with the umbra. Currently, the moonlight will also generally declined, but it is less clear than the umbra shadow. In fact, the percentage is less than 60%, it is almost impossible for the human eye to see the changes in the brightness of the moon passing the penumbral shadow.

The picture shows the geometry and position of the Moon Lunar Eclipse in Umbra and Penumbra shadow.
(Source: www.universetoday.com)

When Penumbral Lunar Eclipse occurs on March 23rd , the position of the moon’s circle plate only enters the earth’s penumbral shadow without touching the earth's umbra shadow. Penumbral lunar eclipse has two phases with reference to the earth’s shadow falling on the moon, namely:: 

  1. First Contact is the first touch of the moon’s plate with the earth's penumbral shadow where the penumbral eclipse is termed to have just started. It is given the symbol P1.
  2. Sixth Contact is when the full moo’s circle plate is on the outside of the earth’s penumbral shadow. It is given the symbol P4.

Table Shows Significant Difference Moonlight Changes During Full Lunar Eclipse, Partial and Penumbra.
(Source: www.mreclipse.com)

No Photo Type of Lunar Eclipse:
1. Full Lunar Eclipse
2. Partial Lunar Eclipse
3. Penumbral Lunar Eclipse
However, the effect of the earth's penumbral shadow falls on the earth is not as clear as the umbra shadow. According to their study, the phase of penumbral lunar eclipse can be detected with the naked eye and optical equipment by an astronomer when the moon enters 60% of the penumbra shadow If it is measured by the magnitude of the eclipse, its value should be greater than -0.6. This means the first contact (P1) and the fourth contact (P4) penumbra impossible to be observed by eye or optical equipment. For the public the impression of a dark moon can only be detected when 5%, or 0.05 magnitude of the eclipse. This means that partial lunar eclipse has already occured.

On March 23rd, the moon will start crossing the penumbral shadow at 5:39 pm (P1). The moon will totally leave penumbral shadow at 9:54 pm (P4). The maximum magnitude of the penumbral eclipse will only reached -0.7 at 7:47 pm. The moon will not touch the umbra shadow. This is because the sun will be 9 degrees from the nod point while the moon will be 14 degrees from the nod point. The moon’s angle compared to the ecliptic plane is more than 1 degree. This will cause the moon to only enter the penumbral shadow at 70% only before coming out, Generally for us in Malaysia, we are be able to witness the eclipse at magnitude -0.7, because the moon has already risen at that moment. For Muslims, Sunat eclipse prayer(solat) is performed during eclipse. The scholars have agreed to put a condition that the eclipse prayer can only be performed when there is total darkness on the moon. Based on the opinion of Imam Shafi'I, solat times for lunar eclipse can be divided into two parts:

  • Starting Time - Start time is when lunar eclipse is seen where the moon is in partial or complete darkness. If there is doubt or unsure, the eclipse is considered to have never occurred based on fiqh method namely al-Ashli adamuhu (Original something is missing).
  • Ending Time - To calculate the ending time of lunar eclipse prayer(solat), there are two conditions:
    • Finished eclipse the light of the full moon.
    • Sunrise but not with the rise of sadiq or kazhib fajar

However, Penumbral Lunar Eclipse that will take place on March 23, is not easy to be identified by the naked eye. This is because the moon will just be passing an unclear penumbral shadow, without touching the umbra shadow which is darker. Let alone without help and reference to the astronomy calculations. Even from an astronomer point of view, it is called an eclipse but the completely dark conditions is not met, then the eclipse prayer(solat) is not required. The moon's surface will have a slight change in color from shiny white to gloomy white, but observers may be confused with the moon’s color that looks dim, and may think the cloud is the cause of changes in the moonlight. Base on the above conditions, penumbral lunar eclipse prayer(solat) on March 23, is not required because the conditions are not met. However, this department will continue to conduct observations and research for the purpose of collecting data. The findings of this study will be analyzed to find out the percentage and magnitude of the eclipse that will be visible to the human eye. The Mufti of Perak welcomes anyone who is interested in becoming respondents in the study. May all your contributions will enrich the heritage of astronomy in Malaysia.

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