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Watching an Eclipse from the Moon
by Michael DeLuca - 2017-08-30 09:47:32.0

Were you part of the great Eclipse last week? 

In the United States, eclipse-mania was hard to avoid. There were eclipse watching parties around the country, national TV networks pre-empted their regular programs for eclipse specials, and the path of totality even aligned with the annual Kelly Little Green Men Days Festival just outside of Hopkinsville, KY

While my hometown of Rochester, NY only saw a partial eclipse (our total eclipse comes in 2024) the lights definitely dimmed around 2:30 PM, which was the time of peak overlap for this location. And even though it was a little cloudy, those clouds served as an excellent neutral density filter, allowing even a pocket cell phone to record the event without any additional light filtering. 

Of course, professional photographers were able to capture much more dramatic pictures, including a spectacular photobomb by the International Space Station as it traversed the sun during the eclipse.

But one of the most interesting pictures to come from the eclipse was taken not on the Earth but from the moon. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been circling our nearest celestial neighbor for over 8 years, generating the highest resolution map of the moon ever created. The LRO mission has already collected as much data as all other planetary missions combined, even surviving a collision with a meteorite along the way. But on August 21, the LRO’s cameras were aimed back at the Earth to take a picture of the eclipse from the perspective of the moon – the body that created the eclipse in the first place. 


NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

The spacecraft’s Narrow Angle Camera – which uses an ON Semiconductor KLI-5001 image sensor – began scanning Earth at 2:25:30 PM EDT (when the eclipse was centered over the Little Green Men Days Festival). Since the Narrow Angle Camera builds up an image line by line (rather than the “all at once” capture possible from an area array sensor), it took 18 seconds to capture all 52,225 lines of the final image. The exposure time was set as short as possible (less than one-thousandth of a second) to prevent bright clouds from overexposing the image.

This isn’t the first time LRO has captured an image of Earth during a solar eclipse (the last was in 2012) and it may not be the last, assuming LRO’s mission continues to be extended through the next solar eclipse in 2024. Until then, LRO has turned its instruments back to its primary target, continuing to expand upon the unprecedented knowledge this mission has provided of our moon.

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