For A Little Something Different, Here’s Earth Eclipsing The Sun

Earth eclipses the sun on Feb. 10, 2009 as seen from lunar orbit by Japan’s Kaguya orbiter. The bright ring around the Earth is caused by sunlight refracted by the Earth’s atmosphere. A peek of sunlight shows in the final frame at right. Although we can’t see it because it’s in shadow, the Earth is rising over the moon from left to right — the reason it’s missing its bottom in the sequence. JAXA / NHP

One of our readers asked a question wondering if any photos had ever been taken of the Earth eclipsing the sun as seen from the moon. You’ll remember that when a total lunar eclipse happens here on Earth, an astronaut or camera on the moon would see the Earth pass in front of the sun. So, I dug around and sure enough found a sequence of images I’d completely forgotten about and plus a couple of even older photos.

Solar eclipse by the Earth from the moon by Kaguya

The sequence shows earthrise at the moon and was photographed by Japan’s lunar orbital mission which launched to the moon in September 2007 and studied the surface, subsurface, and many other aspects of our satellite including sending back some incredible photography with its video camera. You can sense the arc of the moon’s edge as a silhouette in the foreground.

Two images of the Earth eclipsing the sun taken by the Surveyor 3 probe on April 24, 1967. NASA

The other set of eclipse photos, the first ever from the moon, were snapped by Surveyor 3 lander. Surveyor 3 was NASA’s third lander sent to study the lunar surface to make sure it was safe in advance of the manned Apollo program. The lander found itself in the spotlight on Nov. 19, 1969 when the crew of the Apollo 12 mission landed within walking distance of it. They removed several pieces of the probe and returned them to Earth for study. To date, Surveyor 3 remains the only craft visited by humans on another world.

On April 17, 1967, NASA’s Surveyor 3 spacecraft launched on a mission to the lunar surface. A little more than two years after it landed on the moon with the goal of paving the way for a future human mission, the Surveyor 3 spacecraft got a visit from Apollo 12 Commander Charles Conrad Jr. and astronaut Alan L. Bean, who snapped this photo on November 20, 1969. NASA

The current Chinese Chang’e 4 moon mission couldn’t photograph the eclipse because both the lander and rover are parked on the lunar far side. During the Sunday’s eclipse, the far side faced away from the sun in complete darkness. As another reader wrote, we need to get a camera up there on the near side for night photography and special events like solar eclipses. By the way, since the Earth has nearly four times the apparent diameter of the moon does in our sky, total solar eclipses are more frequent than what we’re used to. The sun’s apparent size is just a quarter that of Earth, so the lineup doesn’t have to be exact for the Earth to cover up the sun in solar eclipse.

2 Responses

  1. caralex

    Bob, why does this solar eclipse, as seen by Surveyor, look annular, not total? Surely the earth, being far larger than the moon would leave no ring at totality?

    1. astrobob

      Hi Carol,
      Yes, it would be quite impossible to see an annular eclipse from the moon with the Earth nearly four times the sun’s apparent diameter. I read those photos as crappy black-and-whites (and overexposed at that) of the Earth’s refracted light “corona” (glowing atmosphere).

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