Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy Leaves a Lasting Legacy

Leonard Nimoy played a half-alien-half-human character — Spock — who seemingly was going to live forever. He survived having his brain removed, being bitten by a deadly alien creature and other harrowing experiences. Later, he actually did give his life to save his crew but was resurrected. And he was transported through time in the Star Trek universe to spend his life across hundreds of years. But the very human Nimoy died earlier today at age 83, leaving a legacy of not just an enduring science fiction character, but the generations of scientists and explorers he inspired.

Nimoy had been hospitalized earlier in the week and his agent confirmed his death on February 27, saying the cause was end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Nimoy announced that he had the disease last year and attributed it to years of smoking, a habit he had quit nearly 30 years ago.

Nimoy was active on social media, and for the past couple of months, he seemed to be sending farewell messages to his fans with words of wisdom and sentiment that ended with “LLAP” — “live long and prosper” — a phrase made famous by Nimoy and his character Spock:

Now, following the announcement of his passing there has been an outpouring of sentiments for Nimoy and his character on social media, with expressions of how Nimoy inspired generations to look up and reach for the final frontier.

Journalist Nadia Drake shared her memories and provided Universe Today with the lead image for this article:

The Spock character was known for Vulcan logic and pointy ears, and Nimoy was a favorite with Star Trek fans of all ages. Nimoy not only appeared in the original Star Trek but he reprised his role in later Trek incarnations. He appeared in a total of eight Star Trek movies, and three different Star Trek series (original, animated and Star Trek: the Next Generation).

In addition to Star Trek, Nimoy appeared in “The Twilight Zone,” “Mission Impossible,” “THEM!” “The Brain Eaters,” “Sea Hunt,” “The Outer Limits,” “Get Smart,” “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” “Night Gallery,” and was host of “In Search Of.” He also wrote two autobiographies (“I Am Not Spock” and “I am Spock,”) wrote and performed on 5 albums (one was titled, “Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music from Outer Space,”) was a photographer and poet, contributed to vocal acting, and directed 6 feature films, including “Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home,” and “Three Men and a Baby.”

He is survived by his wife, Susan, as well as two children and six grandchildren from his first marriage to Sandra Zober.

Spock has now reached the final frontier. Tonight we’ll toast his legacy of the “good of the many.”

How To Experience ‘Zero Gravity’ Without Leaving Home: Virtual Reality

If you don’t have a few thousand dollars to spend on a “Vomit Comet” ride, and especially if you can’t afford to buy a ticket for a future weightless joyride in a spacecraft, virtual reality remains the best option to “experience” weightlessness.

There’s a new game available for the virtual-reality headset Oculus Rift that lets people play with objects in microgravity to see what happens next.

Called “Weightless”, the game appears to have a person zooming around a sort of space station and playing with things including pill bottles and cubes, seeing how they spin and soar without gravity’s pull weighing them down. (Note that the author does not have an Oculus Rift and could not test the game out for this article.)

“I wanted the player to have an experience that’s only possible in VR [virtual reality],” wrote creator Martin Schubert on the game’s webpage. “That means taking advantage of the ability to look around in any direction and having good spatial awareness. This led to investigating a weightless environment that allowed freedom of movement in any direction.”

Schubert wrote that the game is available in prototype form for the Oculus Rift DK2, and is best used with a head-mounted Leap Motion finger-tracking sensor. Bear in mind that the Oculus is still very much a prototype gaming platform, but that being said, the experience looks like a lot of fun for those of us lucky to have one. You can learn more about the hardware requirements and download information here.

Our Space Future Is Terrific And Terrifying, New Sci-Fi Short Says

This new space film called “Cinema Space Tribute” combines visions from several sci-fi franchises to show us what space exploration could look like. Will we gracefully explore the moons of Jupiter and far space? Or is it more a reality where we fear the death that lurks behind every action?

Max Shiskin pulls together an impressive list of franchises to show us some fictional versions of space exploration. Backdropped by the soundtrack for Interstellar, you see quick glimpses of ships from Star Trek and Battlestar: Galactica and Star Wars and many more. He even throws in some you might not think of right away, like Man of Steel and Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

There are some neat synergies between the franchises, including a seeming obsession with circles, that Shiskin also shows off in the video. It’s definitely worth four minutes of your time to watch.

 

New ‘Star Wars’ Trailer A Force Among Fans — And An Inspiration For Lego Parody

Just how fast can X-wings hope of Star Wars fans go? In the first day since the new Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens trailer was released, the YouTube channel racked up more than 19 million views, inspiring discussion about how good the new films could be. You can watch the trailer above.

Below (with minor spoilers) is a roundup of the coverage and a cute Lego-inspired parody from a fan.

Entertainment Weekly published seven things that Star Wars fans have learned from the trailer, including the fact that no outer space is featured (!), none of the old-time stars are present yet (why?) and how the new lightsaber actually has a Game of Thrones look.

Ars Technica declared the trailer “definitely looks like Star Wars” because it includes the familiar elements we have been accustomed to since 1977, ranging from stormtroopers to the Millennium Falcon. “One of the challenges … in reviving the Star Wars movie franchise is winning over hardcore fans and washing away the bad taste of the critically reviled prequel films, and there’s no better way to start doing that than by appealing to nostalgia,” the mini-review read.

The Verge cleverly finds a Lego-themed parody of the Star Wars trailer and appears to like the bricked lightsaber more than the one showed in the trailer. And yes, the famous bricks are important to the franchise due to the immensely popular Lego video game series based on Star Wars.

IGN covers what it considers “the major talking points” of the trailer, including the fact that we’re on Tatooine, John Boyega “looks a little anxious” for a stormtrooper, and questions about some of the junk lurking in the background of one of the shots.

Business Insider finds the ultimate Easter egg for Star Wars fans. No, we’re not going to spoil the surprise — you’re going to have to click through to see it.

The Telegraph collects a bunch of fake trailers for those who haven’t had enough of the real thing. You can see one of them below.

Star Wars Fanpedia fulfills our destiny for even MORE fan-made trailers. Expect to see more as the release date comes up in about a year.

Mashable has some amusing asides based on what we see in the trailer. Our favorite: “There’s one piece of writing in the trailer, on the X-wing pilot’s uniform, written in the language of the Star Wars universe, known as Aurebesh. And what does it say? Star Wars nerds had that answer almost immediately: ‘Pull to inflate.’ ”

Carscoops watches the trailer with perhaps the best unique angle ever: what if the characters had to drive cars? What would they look like?

Darth Vader, Renaissance Man? How ‘Star Wars’ Could Have Looked Centuries Ago

You underestimate the power of Dark Side fashion. Imagine for a moment that Darth Vader was around during the same time as say, the ostentatious Louis XIV (the “Sun King” who had a fancy court at Versailles palace in France). If Vader was a high-society gentleman, or at least masking (ha!) as one, what could he have looked like?

Photographer Sacha Goldberger recently put several ‘Star Wars’ characters in this historic time period as part of an exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris. As this Facebook gallery shows, the results are amusing and potentially frightening (most prevalently with Chewbacca.)

Goldberger doesn’t stop with these characters, either. You’ll see others from the Batman franchise, Alice in Wonderland and even that famous caped hero, Superman. The credits just above the images hint that even more characters were on display in the gallery than what are available on the website.

It’s too bad this cosplay came just after Hallowe’en, as this presents some potentially awesome ideas for future costumes. For those who couldn’t make the fair where Goldberger exhibited, you can take a virtual tour here and also learn more about it on the official website.

Learn more about Goldberger at his website and his Facebook page.

(h/t Kotaku)

Review: In “Interstellar,” Christopher Nolan Shows He Has The Right Stuff

Science fiction aficionados, take heed. The highly-anticipated movie Interstellar is sharp and gripping. Nolan and cast show in the end that they have the right stuff. Nearly a three hour saga, it holds your attention and keeps you guessing. Only a couple of scenes seemed to drift and lose focus. Interstellar borrows style and substance from some of the finest in the genre and also adds new twists while paying attention to real science. If a science-fiction movie shies away from imagining the unknown, taking its best shot of what we do not know, then it fails a key aspect of making sci-fi. Interstellar delivers in this respect very well.

Jessica Chastain, the grown daughter of astronaut McConnaughey starts to torch the cornfields. Interstellar viewers are likely to show no sympathy to the ever present corn fields.
Jessica Chastain, the grown daughter of astronaut McConnaughey takes a torch to the cornfields. Interstellar viewers are likely to show no sympathy to the ever present corn fields. Image courtesy Paramount.

The movie begins quite unassuming in an oddly green but dusty farmland. It does not rely on showing off futuristic views of Earth and humanity to dazzle us. However, when you see a farming family with a dinner table full of nothing but variations of their cash crop which is known mostly as feedstock for swine and cattle, you know humanity is in some hard times. McConaughey! Save us now! I do not want to live in such a future!

One is left wondering about what got us to the conditions facing humanity from the onset of the movie. One can easily imagine a couple of hot topic issues that splits the American public in two. But Nolan doesn’t try to add a political or religious bent to Interstellar. NASA is in the movie but apparently after decades of further neglect, it is literally a shadow of even its present self.

Somehow, recent science fiction movies — Gravity being one exception — would make us believe that the majority of American astronauts are from the Midwest. Driving a John Deere when you are 12, being raised under big sky or in proximity to the home of the Wright Brothers would make you hell-bent to get out of Dodge and not just see the world but leave the planet. Matthew McConaughey adds to that persona.

Dr. Kip Thorne made it clear that black is not the primary hue of Black Holes. His guidance offered to Nolan raised science fiction to a new level.
Dr. Kip Thorne made it clear that black is not the primary hue of Black Holes. His guidance offered to Nolan raised science fiction to a new level. Image courtesy Paramount.

We are seemingly in the golden age of astronomy. At present, a science fiction movie with special effects can hardly match the imagery that European and American astronomy is delivering day after day. There is one of our planets that gets a very modest delivery in Interstellar. An undergraduate graphic artist could take hold of NASA imagery and outshine those scenes quite easily. However, it appears that Nolan did not see it necessary to out-do every scene of past sci-fi or every astronomy picture of the day (APOD) to make a great movie.

Nolan drew upon American astro-physicist Dr. Kip Thorne, an expert on Einstein’s General Relativity, to deliver a world-class presentation of possibly the most extraordinary objects in our Universe – black holes. It is fair to place Thorne alongside the likes of Sagan, Feynman, Clarke and Bradbury to advise and deliver wonders of the cosmos in compelling cinematic form. In Instellar, using a black hole in place of a star to hold a planetary system is fascinating and also a bit unbelievable. Whether life could persist in such a system is a open question. There is one scene that will distress most everyone in and around NASA that involves the Apollo Moon landings and one has to wonder if Thorne was pulling a good one on old NASA friends.

Great science fiction combines a vision of the future with a human story. McConaughey and family are pretty unassuming. John Lithgow, who plays grandpa, the retired farmer, doesn’t add much and some craggy old character actor would have been just fine. Michael Cane as the lead professor works well and Cane’s mastery is used to thicken and twist the plot. His role is not unlike the one in Children of Men. He creates bends in the plot that the rest of the cast must conform to.

There was one piece of advice I read in previews of Interstellar. See it in Imax format. So I ventured over to the Imax screening at the Technology Museum in Silicon Valley. I think this advice was half correct. The Earthly scenes gained little or nothing from Imax but once they were in outer space, Imax was the right stuff. Portraying a black hole and other celestial wonders is not easy for anyone including the greatest physicists of our era and Thorne and Nolan were right to use Imax format.

According to industry insiders, Nolan is one of a small group of directors with the clout to demand film recording rather than digital. Director Nolan used film and effects to give Interstellar a very earthy organic feel. That worked and scenes transitioned pretty well to the sublime of outer space. Interstellar now shares the theaters with another interesting movie with science fiction leanings. The Stephen Hawking biography, “The Theory of Everything” is getting very good reviews. They hold different ties to science and I suspect sci-fi lovers will be attracted to seeing both. With Interstellar, out just one full day and I ran into moviegoers that had already seen it more than once.

Where does Interstellar stand compared to Stanley Kubricks works? It doesn’t make that grade of science fiction that stands up as a century-class movie. However, Thorne’s and Nolan’s accounting of black holes and worm holes and the use of gravity is excellent. Instellar makes a 21st Century use of gravity in contrast to Gravity that was stuck in the 20th Century warning us to be careful where you park your space vehicle. In the end, Matthew McConaughey serves humanity well. Anne Hathaway plays a role not unlike Jody Foster in Contact – an intellectual but sympathetic female scientist.

Jessica Chastain playing the grown up daughter of McConaughey brings real angst and an edge to the movie; even Mackenzie Foy playing her part as a child. Call it the view ports for each character – they are short and narrow and Chastain uses hers very well. Matt Damon shows up in a modest but key role and does not disappoint. Nolan’s directing and filmography is impressive, not splashy but one is gripped by scenes. Filming in the small confines of spaceships and spacesuits is challenging and Nolan pulls it off very well. Don’t miss Interstellar in the theaters. It matches and exceeds the quality of several recent science fiction movies. Stepping back onto the street after the movie, the world seemed surprisingly comforting and I was glad to be back from the uncertain future Nolan created.

Why Watch ESA Rosetta’s Movie ‘Ambition’? Because We Want to Know What is Possible

NASA has taken on space missions that have taken years to reach their destination; they have more than a dozen ongoing missions throughout the Solar System and have been to comets as well. So why pay any attention to the European Space Agency’s comet mission Rosetta and their new short film, “Ambition”?

‘Ambition’ might accomplish more in 7 minutes than ‘Gravity’ did in 90.

‘Ambition’ is a 7 minute movie created for ESA and Rosetta, shot on location in Iceland, directed by Oscar-winning Tomek Baginski, and stars Aidan Gillen—Littlefinger of ‘Game of Thrones.’ It is an abstraction of the near future where humans have become demigods. An apprentice is working to merge her understanding of existence with her powers to create. And her master steps in to assure she is truly ready to take the next step.

In the reality of today, we struggle to find grounding for the quest and discoveries that make up our lives on a daily basis. Yet, as the Ebola outbreak or the Middle East crisis reminds us, we are far from breaking away. Such events are like the opening scene of ‘Ambition’ when the apprentice’s work explodes in her face.

The ancient Greeks also took great leaps beyond all the surrounding cultures. They imagined themselves as capable of being demigods. Achilles and Heracles were born from their contact with the gods but they remained fallible and mortal.

The Comet Rendezvous and Flyby Mission conceived in one of two Mariner Mark II spacecraft was abandoned by the US Congress. The American led mission would have accomplished the objectives now being completed by the European Rosetta mission. (Photo Credit: NASA)
The Comet Rendezvous and Flyby Mission conceived in one of two Mariner Mark II spacecraft was abandoned by the US Congress. The American led mission would have accomplished the objectives now being completed by the European Rosetta mission. (Photo Credit: NASA)

But consider the abstraction of the Rosetta mission in light of NASA’s ambitions. As an American viewing the European short film, it reminds me that we are not unlike the ancient Greeks. We have seen the heights of our powers and ability to repel and conquer our enemies, and enrich our country. But we stand manifold vulnerable.

In ‘Ambition’ and Rosetta, America can see our European cousins stepping ahead of us. The reality of the Rosetta mission is that a generation ago – 25 years — we had a mission as ambitious called Comet Rendezvous Asteroid Flyby (CRAF). From the minds within NASA and JPL, twin missions were born. They were of the Mariner Mark II spacecraft design for deep space. One was to Saturn and the other  – CRAF was to a comet. CRAF was rejected by congress and became an accepted sacrifice by NASA in order to save its twin, the Cassini mission.

The short film ‘Ambition’ and the Rosetta mission is a reminder of what American ambition accomplished in the 60’s – Apollo, and the 70s – the Viking Landers, but then it began to falter in the 80s. The ambition of the Europeans did not lose site of the importance of comets. They are perhaps the ultimate Rosetta stones of our star system. They are unmitigated remnants of what created our planet billions of years ago unlike the asteroids that remained close to the Sun and were altered by its heat and many collisions.

Artist Illustration of the Cassini space probe to Saturn and Titan, a joint NASA, ESA mission. Cassini was the only Mariner Mark II spacecraft completed. (Photo Credit: NASA)
Artist Illustration of the Cassini space probe to Saturn and Titan, a joint NASA, ESA mission. Cassini was the only Mariner Mark II spacecraft completed. (Photo Credit: NASA)

Our cousins picked up a scepter that we dropped and we should take notice that the best that Europe spawned in the last century  – the abstract art of Picasso and Stravinsky, rocketry, and jet travel — remains alive today. Europe had the vision to continue a quest to something quite abstract, a comet, while we chose something bigger and more self-evident, Saturn and Titan.

‘Ambition’ shows us the forces at work in and around ESA. They blend the arts with the sciences to bend our minds and force us to imagine what next and why. There have been American epoch films that bend our minds, but yet sometimes it seems we hold back our innate drive to discover and venture out.

NASA recently created a 7 minute film of a harsh reality, the challenge of landing safely on Mars. ESA and Rosetta’s short film reminds us that we are not alone in the quest for knowledge and discovery, both of which set the stage for new growth and invention. America needs to take heed so that we do not wait until we reach the moment when an arrow pierces our heel as with Achilles and we succumb to our challengers.

References:

Rosetta: The Ambition to turn Science Fiction into Science Fact

Mr. Fusion? Compact Fusion Reactor Will be Available in 5 Years Says Lockheed-Martin

The Farnsworth Fusor; Pons and Fleishmann. It seems the trail to fusion energy has long gone cold — stone cold, that is, and not cold as in cold fusion. Despite the promise of fusion providing a sustainable and safe energy source, fusion reactors are not a dime a dozen and they won’t be replacing coal fired power plants any time soon. Or will they? Lockheed-Martin Skunk Works announced a prototype compact fusion reactor that could be ready within five years. This revelation has raised eyebrows and sparked moments of enthusiasm.

But, let’s considers this story and where it all fits in both the history and future.

For every Skunk Works project that has made the runway such as the Stealth Fighter or SR-71 Blackbird, there are untold others that never see the light of day. This adds to the surprise and mystery of Lockheed-Martin’s willingness to release images and a detailed narrative describing a compact fusion reactor project. The impact that such a device would have on humanity can be imagined … and at the same time one imagines how much is unimaginable.

Lockheed-Martin engineers in the Skunkworks prepare a vessel, one component of an apparatus that they announced will lead to nuclear fusion in a truck-sized reactor within 5 years. An international effort is underway in Europe to create the worlds first practical tokamak fusion reactor, a much larger and costlier design that has never achieved the long sought "breakeven" point. (Photo Credit: Lockheed-Martin)
Lockheed-Martin engineers in the Skunkworks prepare a vessel, one component of an apparatus that they announced will lead to nuclear fusion in a truck-sized reactor within 5 years. An international effort is underway in Europe to create the world’s first practical tokamak fusion reactor, a much larger and costlier design that has never achieved the long sought “breakeven” point. (Photo Credit: Lockheed-Martin)

The program manager of the Skunk Works’ compact fusion reactor experiment is Tom Maguire. Maguire and his team places emphasis on the turn-around time for modifying and testing the compact fusion device. With the confidence they are expressing in their design and the ability to quickly build, test and modify, they are claiming only five years will be needed to reach a prototype.

What exactly the prototype represents was left unexplained, however. Maguire continues by saying that in 10 years, the device will be seen in military applications and in 20 years it will be delivered to the world as a replacement for the dirty energy sources that are in use today. Military apps at 10 years means that the device will be too expensive initially for civilian operations but such military use would improve performance and lower costs which could lead to the 20 year milestone moment if all goes as planned.

Their system uses magnetic confinement, the same basic principle behind the tokamak toroidal plasma confinement system that has received the greatest attention and government funding for over 50 years.

The ITER Tokamak Fusion Reactor is expected to begin operational testing in 2020 and begin producing deuterium-tritium fusion reactions in 2027. (Credits: ITER, Illus. T.Reyes)
The ITER Tokamak Fusion Reactor is expected to begin operational testing in 2020 and begin producing deuterium-tritium fusion reactions in 2027. (Credits: ITER, Illus. T.Reyes)

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is currently under construction in Europe under the assumption that it will be the first net energy producing fusion generator ever. It is funded by the European Union, India, Japan, People’s Republic of China, Russia, South Korea and the United States. But there are cost over-runs and its price has gone from $5 billion to $50 billion.

ITER is scheduled to begin initial testing in 2019 about the time Lockheed-Martin’s compact fusion reactor prototype is expected. If Lockheed-Martin succeeds in their quest, they will effectively have skunked ITER and laid to waste a $50 billion international effort at likely 1/1000th the cost.

There are a few reasons Lockheed-Martin has gone out on a limb. Consider the potential. One ton of Uranium used in Fission reactors has as much energy as 1,500 tons of coal. But fission reactors produce radioactive waste and are a finite resource without breeder reactors, themselves a nuclear proliferation risk. Fusion produces 3 to 4 times more energy per reaction than fission. Additionally, the fuel — isotopes of hydrogen — is available from sea water — which is nearly limitless — and the byproducts are far less radioactive than with fission. Fusion generators once developed could provide our energy needs for millions of years.

More pragmatically, corporations promote their R&D. They are in a constant state of competition. They present a profile that ranges from the practical to the cutting edge to instill confidence in their Washington coffers. Furthermore, their competitors have high profile individuals and projects. A fusion project demonstrates that Lockheed-Martin is doing more than creating better mouse-traps.

To date, no nuclear fusion reactor has achieved breakeven. This is when the fusion device outputs as much energy as is input to operate it. Magnetic confinement such as the various tokamak designs, Lawrence Livermore’s laser-based inertial confinement method, and even the simple Philo Farnsworth Fusor can all claim to be generating energy from fusion reactions. They are just all spending more energy than their devices output.

An example of a homemade Fusor. Originally invented in the 1960s by the inventor of the television, Philo Farnsworth. (Credit: Wikipedia, W.Jack)
An example of a homemade Fusor. Originally invented in the 1960s by the inventor of the television, Philo Farnsworth. (Credit: Wikipedia, W.Jack)

The fusor, invented in the 1960s by Farnsworth and Hirsh, is a electrostatic plasma confinement system. It uses electric fields to confine and accelerate ions through a central point at which some ions will collide with sufficient energy to fuse. Although the voltage needed is readily achieved by amateurs – about 4000 volts – not uncommon in household devices, no fusor has reached breakeven and theoretically never will. The challenge to reaching breakeven involves not just energy/temperature but also plasma densities. Replicating conditions that exist in the core of stars in a controllable way is not easy. Nevertheless, there is a robust community of “fusioneers” around the world and linked by the internet.

Mr Fusion, the compact fusion reactor that drove the 21st Century version of the DeLorian in Back to the Future. The movie trilogy grossed $1 billion at the box office. Mr Fusion could apparently function off of any water bearing material. (Credit: Universal Pictures)
Mr Fusion, the compact fusion reactor that drove the 21st Century version of the DeLorean in Back to the Future. The movie trilogy grossed $1 billion at the box office. Mr Fusion could apparently function off of any water bearing material. (Credit: Universal Pictures)

It remains to be seen who, what and when a viable fusion reactor will be demonstrated. With Lockheed-Martin’s latest announcement, once again, fusion energy is “just around the corner.” But many skeptics remain who will quickly state that commercial fusion energy remains 50 years in the future. So long as Maguire’s team meets milestones with expected performance improvements, their work will go on. The potential of fusion energy remains too great to dismiss categorically.

Source: Lockheed-Martin Products Page, Compact Fusion

REAL Images of Eclipses Seen From Space

That ‘amazing astro-shot that isn’t’ is making the rounds of ‘ye ole web again.

You know the one. “See an Amazing Image of an Eclipse… From SPACE!!!” screams the breathless headline, with the all-too-perfect image of totality over the limb of the Earth, with the Milky Way thrown in behind it for good measure.

As the old saying goes, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Sure, the pic is a fake, and it’s been debunked many, many times since it was first released into the wild a few years back. But never let reality get in the way of a good viral meme. As eclipse season 2 of 2 gets underway tonight with a total lunar eclipse followed by a partial solar eclipse on October 23rd both visible from North America, the image is once again making its rounds. But there’s a long history of authentic captures of eclipses from space that are just as compelling. We’ve compiled just such a roll call of real images of eclipses seen from space:

SDO
A partial solar eclipse as captured by SDO. Credit: NASA/SDO.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory:

Launched in 2010, The Solar Dynamics Observatory or SDO is NASA’s premier orbiting solar observatory. But unlike Sun-staring satellites based in low Earth orbit, SDO’s geosynchronous orbit assures that it tends to see a cycle of partial solar eclipses twice a year, roughly around the equinoxes. And like many satellites, SDO also passes into the Earth’s shadow as well, offering unique views of a solar eclipse by the limb of the Earth from its vantage point.

JAXA
The Moon ‘photobombs’ the view of Hinode. Credit: NASA/JAXA.

Hinode:

A joint mission between NASA and JAXA (the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) launched in 2006, Hinode observes the Sun from low Earth orbit. As a consequence, it nearly has a similar vantage point as terrestrial viewers and frequently nabs passages of the Moon as solar eclipses occur. Such events, however, are fleeting; moving at about eight kilometres per second, such eclipses last only seconds in duration!

ESA
Catching the passage of the Moon during a brief partial eclipse. Credit: ESA.

Proba-2:

Like Hinode, Proba-2 is the European Space Agency’s flagship solar observing spacecraft based in low Earth orbit. It also catches sight of the occasional solar eclipse, and these fleeting passages of the Moon in front of the Earth happen in quick multiple cycles. Recent images from Proba-2 are available online.

Eclipses from the ISS:

The International Space Station isn’t equipped to observe the Sun per se, but astronauts and cosmonauts aboard have managed to catch views of solar eclipses in an unusual way, as the umbra of the Moon crosses the surface of the Earth. Such a view also takes the motion of the ISS in low Earth orbit into account. Cosmonauts aboard the late Mir space station also caught sight of the August 11th, 1999, total solar eclipse over Europe.

NASA GOES
NASA’ s GOES-WEST spies the umbra of the Moon. Credit: NASA-GOES.

NASA-GOES:

Weather satellites can, and do, occasionally catch sight of the inky black dot of the Moon’s penumbra crossing the disk of the Earth.  GOES-West snapped the above image of the November 13th, 2012, solar eclipse. The umbra of the Moon’s shadow races about 1700 kilometres per hour from west to east during an eclipse, and we can expect some interesting images in 2017 when the next total solar eclipse crosses the United States on August 21st, 2017.

NASA
An ‘Apollo eclipse!’ Credit: NASA.

Apollo-Soyuz Test Project:

The final mission of Apollo program, the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, also yielded an unusual and little known effort to observe the Sun. The idea was to use the Apollo command module as a “coronagraph” and have cosmonauts image the Sun from the Soyuz as the Apollo spacecraft blocked it out after undocking. Unfortunately, the Apollo thrusters smeared the exposure, and it became a less than iconic— though unusual — view from the space age.

Gemini XII
A partial solar eclipse snapped by the crew of Gemini XII. Credit: NASA.

Gemini XII and the first eclipse seen from space:

On November 12th, 1966, a total solar eclipse graced South America. Astronauts James Lovell Jr. and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. were also in orbit at the time, and managed to snap the first image of a solar eclipse from space. Gemini XII was the last flight of the program, and the astronauts initially thought they’d missed the eclipse after a short trajectory burn.

ISS
The 2012 transit of Venus as seen from the ISS. Credit: NASA/Don Pettit.

ISS Astronauts catch a transit of Venus:

We were fortunate that the International Space Station had its very own amateur astronomer in residence in 2012 to witness the historic transit of Venus from space. NASA astronaut Don Pettit knew that the transit would occur during his rotation, and packed a full-aperture white light solar filter for the occasion. Of course, a planetary transit meets the very loosest definition of a partial eclipse, but it’s a unique capture nonetheless.

Kaguya:

Japan’s SELENE-Kaguya spacecraft entered orbit around the Moon in 2007 and provided some outstanding imagery of our solitary natural neighbor. On February 10th, 2009, it also managed to catch a high definition view of the Earth eclipsing the Sun as seen from lunar orbit. A rare catch, such an event occurs during every lunar eclipse as seen from the Earth.

Mars eclipse
Curiosity captures a misshapen eclipse from the surface of Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL.

An unusual eclipse… seen from Mars:

We’re fortunate to live in an epoch in time and space where total solar eclipses can occur as seen from the Earth. But bizarre eclipses and transits can also be seen from Mars. The Spirit and Opportunity rovers have witnessed brief transits of the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos across the face of the Sun, and in 2010, the Curiosity rover recorded the passage of Phobos in front of the Sun in a bizarre-potato shaped “annular eclipse”. But beyond just the “coolness” factor, the event also helped researchers refine our understanding of orbital path of the Martian moon.

The future: It’s also interesting to think of what sort of astronomical wonders await travelers as we venture out across the solar system. For example, no human has yet to stand on the Moon and witness a solar eclipse. Or how about a ring plane passage through Saturn’s rings, thus far only witnessed via the robotic eyes of Cassini? Of course, for the best views of Saturn’s rings, we recommend a vacation stay on Iapetus, the only major Saturnian moon whose orbit is inclined to the ring plane. And stick around ‘til November 10th, 2084, and you can witness a transit of Earth, the Moon and Phobos as seen from the slopes of Elysium Mons on Mars:

Hopefully, they’ll have perfected that whole Futurama “head-in-a-jar” thing by then…

-Looking for eclipses in science fiction? Check out the author’s tales Exeligmos and Shadowfall.