In the Shadow of the Moon: A Lunar View of an Eclipse

by Jason Major on May 25, 2012

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The LROC turned to capture the Moon's shadow during the May 20 solar eclipse (NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

The May 20 annular eclipse may have been an awesome sight for skywatchers across many parts of the Earth, but it was also being viewed by a robotic explorer around the Moon!

During the event NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter turned its camera to look back home, acquiring several images of the Earth with the Moon’s fuzzy shadow cast onto different regions during the course of the eclipse. The image above is a 4-panel zoom into one particular NAC image showing the Moon’s shadow over the Aleutian Islands.

LRO captured a total of four narrow-angle camera (NAC) images during two of its orbits. During one orbit the Moon’s shadow was over the southern part of Japan, and during the next it had moved northeast to cover the island chain of Alaska.

According to the LROC site run by Arizona State University:

The NAC is a line scanner, meaning that it has only one row of 5064 pixels per camera. Instead of snapping a single frame, an image is built up by the motion of the spacecraft in orbit about the Moon (about 1600 meters per second). To obtain an image of the Earth the spacecraft is turned 180° to face the Earth, then the spacecraft is pitched as quickly as possible (one-tenth of a degree per second), so that the image is built up line by line.

This also explains why some of the images are “clipped” on the edges… LRO ran out of time during its lunar orbit. Still, it’s great to be able to show some photos of the eclipse from quite possibly the most distant viewer anywhere!

Read more on the LROC site here.

Animation of four LROC images of the annular eclipse (click to play) NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

About 

A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

Jeremy May 26, 2012 at 10:31 AM

It looks beautiful like my marbles. Too bad the eclipse was not observable at my place. But I’m happy to see these images.

newSteveZodiac May 26, 2012 at 10:59 AM

Now why is the shadow fuzzy? Is it the umbra penumbra thing?

David Krauss May 26, 2012 at 4:00 PM

Yep. When 50% of the sun is blocked at a location on earth, it appears illuminated with half intensity when looking down from space.

For a partial eclipse such as this (annular still means the sun is never completely blocked out), there is no umbra, only a penumbra.

BallardKaren22 May 26, 2012 at 5:26 PM

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JonHanford May 26, 2012 at 7:35 PM

Speaking of eclipses, on June 4th, the moon will be partially eclipsed as seen from eastern Asia, Australia, and western portions of North and South America: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/OH/OHfigures/OH2012-Fig03.pdf

SLOOH is planning to webcast the event: http://www.slooh.com/lunar-eclipse/index.php

squidgeny May 28, 2012 at 10:26 AM

A day later and certain parts of the moon would miss the transit of venus!

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