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See Amazing Views of the April 8th Total Solar Eclipse from Space – Sky & Telescope

AstronomySee Amazing Views of the April 8th Total Solar Eclipse from Space - Sky & Telescope

The shadow of the Moon, as seen from the International Space Station.

Did you see it? The April 8th eclipse across North America was one for a generation, as the path of totality passed from Mexico, across the United States from Texas to Maine, and out over the Canadian Maritime provinces. And while some viewers along the southern and central portion of the track battled clouds — the reverse of the expected trend — viewers along the northeast portion of the track saw skies swept clear by a late season snow storm just days before totality.

Eyes in space, both human and robotic, were on hand to catch the eclipse as well. Those views typically show either the shadow of the Moon crossing Earth or, from solar observing missions, the Moon crossing in front of the Sun. One of the very first space views of a solar eclipse came from NASA’s Surveyor 3 lander on the lunar surface in 1967, during a total lunar eclipse as seen from the Earth:

Surveyor's solar eclipse
This view, from Surveyor 3, is one that human eyes have yet to witness from the surface of the Moon: a total solar eclipse.

The Eclipse from Earth-observing Satellites

The GOES 16 weather satellite captured a memorable view of Earth’s full disk as the Moon’s shadow swept across North America on April 8th, along with those pesky clouds that some eclipse chasers found themselves under:

NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) also captured the Moon’s shadow from its vantage point at the sunward L1 Lagrange point, almost a million miles away from Earth. The Moon itself sometimes photobombs the view, but in this case (and during many solar eclipses), it was just off frame.

Discover EPIC
The EPIC spacecraft’s view of the solar eclipse from its position at the L1 Earth-Sun Lagrange point.

The view from the International Space Station (ISS; see first photo above) also gives us a closeup look at the black maw of the Moon’s shadow, 200 kilometers (123 miles) wide. The photo shows the shadow as it passed over the location where we were marveling at the total solar eclipse, in our hometown of Mapleton, Maine. (We did devote a few precious seconds to looking for the ISS on that pass, without success — it was probably immersed in the deep penumbral shadow of the Moon).

Finally, NASA’s venerable Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter caught a glimpse of the Moon’s shadow from its perch in low lunar orbit. This was tricky, as the orbiter had to slew and track its line-scanning cameras to build up a complete image. Still, it only took LRO 20 seconds to complete the resulting picture. (Japan’s ill-fated Hakuto-R mission completed a similar feat during the April 20, 2023 eclipse.)

LROC Eclipse
This annotated view of the April 8th eclipse comes from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Other views came from closer to the ground, as NASA also chased the shadow of the Moon with two WB-57 Canberra aircraft. Not only does flying after the shadow extend your time in totality, but being aloft enables researchers to carry out infrared studies of the solar atmosphere. These observations will also complement simultaneous observations from NASA’s Parker Solar Probe and ESA’s Solar Orbiter, both flying much closer to the Sun. While it’ll take a while to get results from these missions, NASA has already published some amazing airborne views of totality:

WB57 versus the total solar eclipse
A cockpit view of the total solar eclipse.

Another ESA solar mission, Proba 2, also caught the total solar eclipse from low-Earth orbit, although its view was off at an angle, so the eclipse was seen as partial only. The agency’s Proba 3 mission, launching in September 2024, will create its own eclipses on demand, courtesy of a free-flying occulting disc.

For everyone on the ground, it was an amazing eclipse for sure, and the views from space only enhance that feeling of awe. It’s amazing to see these views, looking back at humanity as we’re looking outward at the wonder of a total solar eclipse.

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