Last Year’s Total Solar Eclipse on Earth, Seen From the Moon

On July 2, 2019, the Moon cast its shadow on the surface of the Earth. This time, the shadow’s path travelled across the South Pacific Ocean. It also passed over some of Argentina and Chile. For surface dwellers in the path, the Moon briefly blocked the Sun, turning night into day.

But for one “eye” in orbit around the Moon, the view was different. A camera on a tiny satellite watched as the circular shadow of the Moon moved over the Earth’s surface.

The satellite is the Chinese Longjiang-2. It’s a tiny microsatellite launched in 2018 as part of the Chang’e 4 mission. Longjiang had a sibling, Longjiang 1, which failed to enter lunar orbit. The pair of microsatellites were designed to study very low frequency radio waves from distant stellar objects.

But Longjiang 2 made it into lunar orbit, and it carried a small, student-built camera, called the Inory Eye camera. And that camera recorded images of the eclipse’s shadow as it traversed the Earth.

Surely, a sight no human eyes have ever seen directly. The shadow of the Moon is clearly visible on the surface of the Earth. Image Credit: MingChuan Wei (Harbin Institute of Technology, BG2BHC/BY2HIT), CAMRAS Dwingeloo Radio Telescope, Reinhard Kühn DK5LA. Image edit by Jason Major.
Surely, a sight no human eyes have ever seen directly. The shadow of the Moon is clearly visible on the surface of the Earth. Image Credit: MingChuan Wei (Harbin Institute of Technology, BG2BHC/BY2HIT), CAMRAS Dwingeloo Radio Telescope, Reinhard Kühn DK5LA. Image edit by Jason Major.

The camera was built by students at the Harbin Institute of Technology, along with a small radio transmitter.

But unlike well-funded, state-run endeavours, the camera, the transmitter, and these eclipse images required a lot of cooperation between amateurs, professionals, and students.

2019 total solar eclipse
The path of the July 2nd, 2019 total solar eclipse. Credit: NASA/GSFC/A.T. Sinclair.

The commands required for the satellite and its camera to take these pictures were planned by MingChuan Wei of China’s Harbin Institute of Technology. They were uploaded to the satellite by a German amateur radio astronomer named Reinhard Kühn. And receiving the images here on Earth was up to the amateurs who operate the Dwingeloo Telescope in the Netherlands.

There’s only one small problem: the images, in their raw form, have an off-putting purple hue.

The raw images from the Inory Eye camera have a purple hue to them. Image Credit: MingChuan Wei (Harbin Institute of Technology, BG2BHC/BY2HIT), CAMRAS Dwingeloo Radio Telescope, Reinhard Kühn DK5LA.
The raw images from the Inory Eye camera have a purple hue to them. Image Credit: MingChuan Wei (Harbin Institute of Technology, BG2BHC/BY2HIT), CAMRAS Dwingeloo Radio Telescope, Reinhard Kühn DK5LA.

Luckily, Jason Major at Lights In The Dark is a graphic designer with a strong interest in all things space-related. He got to work, and gave the Earth and the Moon their natural colors back.

There won’t be any more images from the Inory Eye camera. The Longjiang-2 satellite was crashed into the Moon on July 31, 2019 in a planned impact. The satellite’s mission lasted 437 days.

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