Tonight, Australians, Africans, Europeans, Asians and South Americans will have the opportunity to see the longest lunar eclipse of the century. Sorry North America.
Lunar eclipses occur about 2-4 times per year, when the Moon passes into the Earth’s shadow. In order to see a lunar eclipse, you must be on the night side of the Earth, facing the Moon, when the Earth passes in between the Moon and the Sun. Need help visualizing this? Here you go:
What’s the difference between a solar eclipse and a lunar eclipse?
An easy way to remember the difference between a solar eclipse and a lunar eclipse is that the word ‘eclipse’ refers to the object that is being obscured. During a solar eclipse, the Moon blocks the Sun from view. During a lunar eclipse, the Earth’s shadow obscures the Moon.
Why does the Moon turn red?
You may have heard the term ‘Blood Moon’ for a lunar eclipse. When the Moon passes into the Earth’s shadow, it turns red. This happens for the exact same reason that our sunrises and sunsets here on Earth are brilliant shades of pinks and oranges. During a lunar eclipse, the only light reaching the Moon passes through the Earth’s atmosphere. The bluer, shorter wavelength light scatters and the longer wavelength red light passes through and makes it to the Moon.
What science can we learn from a lunar eclipse?
“During a lunar eclipse, the temperature swing is so dramatic that it’s as if the surface of the Moon goes from being in an oven to being in a freezer in just a few hours,” said Noah Petro, project scientist for our Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, at our Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
The Diviner team from LRO measures temperature changes on the Moon through their instrument on the spacecraft as well as through a thermal camera on Earth. How quickly or slowly the lunar surface loses heat helps scientists determine characteristics of lunar material, including its composition and physical properties.
When is the next lunar eclipse?
North Americans, don’t worry. If skies are clear, you can see the next lunar eclipse on January 21, 2019. The eclipse will be visible to North Americans, South Americans, and most of Africa and Europe.
Did you know we’re watching the Sun 24/7 from space?
We use a whole
fleet of satellites to monitor the Sun and its influences on the solar
system. One of those is the Solar Dynamics
Observatory. It’s been in space for eight years, keeping an eye on the Sun
almost every moment of every day. Launched on Feb. 11, 2010, this satellite
(also known as SDO) was originally designed for a two-year mission, but it’s
still collecting data to this day — and one of our best ways to keep an eye on
To celebrate another year of SDO, we’re sharing some of our
favorite solar views that the spacecraft sent back to Earth in 2017.
The Sun goes through a natural 11-year cycle of activity
marked by two extremes: solar maximum and solar minimum. Sunspots are dark
regions of complex magnetic activity on the Sun’s surface, and the number of
sunspots at any given time is used as an index of solar activity.
Solar maximum = intense solar activity and more
Solar minimum = less solar activity and fewer
This March 2017 period was the longest stretch of spotlessness since the last solar minimum in April 2010 – a sure sign that the solar cycle is marching on toward the next minimum, which scientists expect in 2019-2020. For comparison, the images on the left are from Feb. 2014 – during the last solar maximum – and show a much spottier Sun.
June: Energized active
A pair of relatively small but frenetic
active regions – areas of intense and complex magnetic fields – rotated
into SDO’s view May 31 – June 2, while spouting off numerous small flares and
sweeping loops of plasma. The dynamic regions were easily the most remarkable
areas on the Sun during this 42-hour period.
July: Two weeks in the
life of a sunspot
On July 5, SDO watched an active region rotate into view on
the Sun. The satellite continued
to track the region as it grew and eventually rotated across the Sun and
out of view on July 17.
With their complex magnetic fields, sunspots are often the
source of interesting solar activity: During its 13-day trip across the face of
the Sun, the active region — dubbed AR12665 — put on a show for our Sun-watching
satellites, producing several solar flares, a coronal mass ejection and a solar
energetic particle event.
August: An eclipse in
While millions of people in North America experienced a
total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, SDO
saw a partial eclipse from space. SDO actually sees several
a year from its perspective – but an eclipse on the ground doesn’t necessarily
mean that SDO will see anything out of the ordinary. Even on Aug. 21, SDO saw
only 14 percent of the Sun blocked by the Moon, while most US residents saw 60
percent blockage or more.
September: A spate of
In September 2017, SDO saw a
spate of solar activity, with the Sun emitting 31 notable flares and
releasing several powerful coronal mass ejections between Sept. 6-10. Solar
flares are powerful bursts of radiation, while coronal mass ejections are
massive clouds of solar material and magnetic fields that erupt from the Sun at
One of the flares imaged by SDO on Sept. 6 was classified as
X9.3 – clocking in at the most powerful flare of the current solar cycle. The
current cycle began in December 2008 and is now decreasing in intensity,
heading toward solar minimum. During solar minimum, such eruptions on the Sun
are increasingly rare, but history has shown that they can nonetheless be
September: A trio of
distinct solar active regions with towering arches rotated into SDO’s view
over a three-day period from Sept. 24-26. Charged particles spinning along the
ever-changing magnetic field lines above the active regions trace out the
magnetic field in extreme ultraviolet light, a type of light that is typically
invisible to our eyes, but is colorized here in gold. To give some sense of
scale, the largest arches are many times the size of Earth.
December: A curling
SDO saw a small prominence arch up
and send streams of solar material curling back into the Sun over a 30-hour
period on Dec. 13-14. Prominences are relatively cool strands of solar material
tethered above the Sun’s surface by magnetic fields.
An elongated coronal hole — the darker area near the center
of the Sun’s disk — looked
something like a question mark when seen in extreme ultraviolet light by SDO
on Dec. 21-22. Coronal holes are magnetically open areas on the Sun that
allow high-speed solar wind to gush out into space. They appear as dark areas
when seen in certain wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light.
If you were captivated by August’s total solar eclipse, there’s another sky show to look forward to on Jan. 31: a total lunar eclipse!
Below are 10 things to know about this astronomical event, including where to see it, why it turns the Moon into a deep red color and more…
1. First things first. What’s the difference between solar and lunar eclipses? We’ve got the quick and easy explanation in this video:
2. Location, location, location. What you see will depend on where you are. The total lunar eclipse will favor the western U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, and British Columbia on Jan. 31. Australia and the Pacific Ocean are also well placed to see a major portion of the eclipse, if not all of it.
3. Color play. So, why does the Moon turn red during a lunar eclipse? Here’s your answer:
4. Scientists, stand by. What science can be done during a lunar eclipse? Find out HERE.
5. Show and tell. What would Earth look like from the Moon during a lunar eclipse? See for yourself with this artist’s concept HERE.
6. Ask me anything. Mark your calendars to learn more about the Moon during our our Reddit AMA happening Monday, Jan. 29, from 3-4 pm EST/12-1 pm PST.
7. Social cues. Make sure to follow @NASAMoon and @LRO_NASA for all of the latest Moon news leading up to the eclipse and beyond.
8. Watch year-round. Can’t get enough of observing the Moon? Make a DIY Moon Phases Calendar and Calculator that will keep all of the dates and times for the year’s moon phases right at your fingertips HERE.
Then, jot down notes and record your own illustrations of the Moon with a Moon observation journal, available to download and print from moon.nasa.gov.
9. Lesson learned. For educators, pique your students’ curiosities about the lunar eclipse with this Teachable Moment HERE.
10. Coming attraction. There will be one more lunar eclipse this year on July 27, 2018. But you might need your passport—it will only be visible from central Africa and central Asia. The next lunar eclipse that can be seen all over the U.S. will be on Jan. 21, 2019. It won’t be a blue moon, but it will be a supermoon.
Quadrantid meteors, a West Coast-favoring total lunar eclipse and time to start watching Mars!
This month the new year’s first meteor shower fizzles, Mars meets Jupiter in the morning sky and the U.S. will enjoy a total lunar eclipse!
Most meteor showers radiate from recognizable constellations. Like the Leonids, Geminids and Orionids.
But the Quadrantids are meteors that appear to radiate from the location of the former Quadrans Muralis constellation, an area that’s now part of the constellation Bootes.
The Quadrantids’ peak lasts for just a few hours, and sadly, this year their timing coincides with a very bright, nearly full moon that will wash out most of the meteors.
You can look in any direction to see all the meteor showers. When you see one of these meteors, hold a shoestring along the path it followed. The shoestring will lead you back to the constellation containing the meteor’s origin.
On the morning of January 6th, look in the south-southeast sky 45 minutes before sunrise to see Jupiter and fainter Mars almost as close as last month’s Jupiter and Venus close pairing.
Mars is only one-sixth the apparent diameter of Jupiter, but the two offer a great binocular and telescopic view with a pretty color contrast. They remain in each other’s neighborhood from January 5th through the 8th.
Finally, to end the month, a great total lunar eclipse favors the western U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii and British Columbia on January 31st. Australia and the Pacific Ocean are well placed to see a major portion of the eclipse–if not all of it.
For our 5th annual #BlackHoleFriday we’ll share awesome images and facts about black holes! A black hole is a place in space where gravity pulls so much that even light cannot get out. With 916,247 likes, this picture ranks #8 for 2017.
#7 The Elements of Cassiopeia A
Did you know that stellar explosions and their remains–“supernova remnants”–are a source of chemical elements essential for life here on Earth? A new Chandra X-ray Observatory image captures the location of several vital elements like silicon (red), sulfur (yellow), calcium (green) and iron (purple), located on Cassiopeia A–a supernova remnant ~11,000 light years from Earth. This image ranks #7 for 2017 with 943,806 likes.
#6 Jupiter Blues
Jupiter, you’re bluetiful 💙 ! Churning swirls of Jupiter’s clouds are seen in striking shades of blue in this new view taken by our Juno spacecraft. This image ranks as our sixth most liked Instagram post of 2017 with 990,944 likes.
#5 An Interstellar Visitor
An interstellar visitor…scientists have confirmed that an intriguing asteroid that zipped through our solar system in October is the first confirmed object from another star! Observations suggest that this unusual object had been wandering through the Milky Way, unattached to any star system, for hundreds of millions of years before its chance encounter with our star system. With 1,015,721 likes, this image ranks #5 for 2017.
#4 Space Station Lunar Transit
Space station supermoon. This composite image made from six frames shows the International Space Station, with a crew of six onboard, as it transits the Moon at roughly five miles per second on Dec. 2. This image ranks #4 for 2017 with 1,037,520 likes.
#3 The Space Between Us
The beautiful space between Earth and the International Space Station was immortalized by NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei while orbiting 250 miles above the planet we call home. This majestic image ranks #3 for 2017 with 1,042,403 likes.
#2 The Moon Swallows the Sun
Today, the Sun disappeared, seemingly swallowed by our Moon–at least for a while. The August 21 solar eclipse cut through a swath of North America from coast to coast and those along the path of totality, that is where the Moon completely covered the Sun, were faced with a sight unseen in the U.S. in 99 years. Which might have something to do with this image ranking #2 for 2017 with 1,144,503 likes.
#1 Solar Eclipse Over Cascade Lake
Behold! This progression of the partial solar eclipse took place over Ross Lake, in Northern Cascades National Park, Washington on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017.
This photo was our #1 image of 2017 with 1,471,114 likes!
See them all here!
Do you want to get amazing images of Earth from space, see distant galaxies and more on Instagram? Of course you do! Follow us: https://www.instagram.com/nasa/
*Posts and rankings are were taken as of Dec. 28, 2017.
While millions of
people in North America headed outside to watch the eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, hundreds of scientists got out telescopes, set up instruments, and
prepared balloon launches – all so they could study the Sun and its complicated
influence on Earth.
eclipses happen about once every 18 months somewhere in the world, but the
August eclipse was rare because of its long path over land. The total eclipse
lasted more than 90 minutes over land, from when it first reached Oregon to
when it left the U.S. in South Carolina.
This meant that
scientists could collect more data from land than during most eclipses, giving
us new insight into our world and the star that powers it.
A moment in the Sun’s
During a total solar
eclipse, the Sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, is visible from Earth. It’s
normally too dim to see next to the Sun’s bright face, but, during an eclipse, the
Moon blocks out the Sun, revealing the corona.
Image Credit: Peter Aniol, Miloslav Druckmüller and Shadia Habbal
Though we can
study parts of the corona with instruments that create artificial eclipses, some
of the innermost regions of the corona are only visible during total solar
eclipses. Solar scientists think this part of the corona may hold the secrets
to some of our most fundamental questions about the Sun: Like how the solar
wind – the constant flow of magnetized material that streams out from the Sun
and fills the solar system – is accelerated, and why the corona is so much
hotter than the Sun’s surface below.
where you were, someone watching the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 might have
been able to see the Moon completely obscuring the Sun for up to two minutes
and 42 seconds. One scientist wanted to stretch that even further – so he used
a pair of our WB-57 jets to chase the path of the Moon’s shadow, giving their
telescopes an uninterrupted view of the solar corona for just over seven and half minutes.
telescopes were originally designed to help monitor space shuttle launches, and
the eclipse campaign was their first airborne astronomy project!
scientists weren’t the only ones who had the idea to stretch out their view of
the eclipse: The Citizen CATE project (short for Continental-America Telescopic
Eclipse) did something similar, but with the help of hundreds of citizen scientists.
Citizen CATE included
68 identical small telescopes spread out across the path of totality, operated
by citizen and student scientists. As the Moon’s shadow left one telescope, it reached
the next one in the lineup, giving scientists a longer look at the way the
corona changes throughout the eclipse.
accounting for clouds, Citizen CATE telescopes were able to collect 82 minutes
of images, out of the 93 total minutes that the eclipse was over the US. Their
images will help scientists study the dynamics of the inner corona, including
fast solar wind flows near the Sun’s north and south poles.
The magnetized solar
wind can interact with Earth’s magnetic field, causing auroras, interfering
with satellites, and – in extreme cases – even straining our power systems, and
all these measurements will help us better understand how the Sun sends this
material speeding out into space.
Exploring the Sun-Earth
used the eclipse as a natural laboratory to explore the Sun’s complicated
influence on Earth.
High in Earth’s
upper atmosphere, above the ozone layer, the Sun’s intense radiation creates a
layer of electrified particles called the ionosphere. This region of the
atmosphere reacts to changes from both Earth below and space above. Such
changes in the lower atmosphere or space weather can manifest as disruptions in
the ionosphere that can interfere with communication and navigation signals.
One group of
scientists used the eclipse to test computer models of the ionosphere’s effects
on these communications signals. They predicted that radio signals would travel
farther during the eclipse because of a drop in the number of energized particles.
Their eclipse day data – collected by scientists spread out across the US and
by thousands of amateur radio operators – proved that prediction right.
experiment, scientists used the Eclipse Ballooning Project to investigate the eclipse’s effects
lower in the atmosphere. The project incorporated weather balloon flights from
a dozen locations to form a picture of how Earth’s lower atmosphere – the part
we interact with and which directly affects our weather – reacted to the
eclipse. They found that the planetary boundary layer, the lowest part of
Earth’s atmosphere, actually moved closer to Earth during the eclipse, dropped
down nearly to its nighttime altitude.
A handful of these
balloons also flew cards containing harmless bacteria to explore the potential
of other planets with Earth-born life. Earth’s stratosphere is similar to the surface of Mars, except in one main way:
the amount of sunlight. But during the eclipse, the level of sunlight dropped
to something closer to what you’d expect to see on Mars, making this the
perfect testbed to explore whether Earth microbes could hitch a ride to the Red
Planet and survive. Scientists are working through the data collected, hoping
to build up better information to help robotic and human explorers alike avoid
carrying bacterial hitchhikers to Mars.
Image: The small metal card used to transport bacteria.
EPIC instrument aboard NOAA’s DSCOVR satellite provided awe-inspiring views of the
eclipse, but it’s also helping scientists understand Earth’s energy balance. Earth’s energy system is in a constant
dance to maintain a balance between incoming radiation from the Sun and
outgoing radiation from Earth to space, which scientists call the Earth’s
energy budget. The role of clouds, both thick and thin, is important in their
effect on energy balance.
Like a giant
cloud, the Moon during the total solar eclipse cast a large shadow across a
swath of the United States. Scientists know the dimensions and light-blocking
properties of the Moon, so they used ground- and space-based instruments to
learn how this large shadow affects the amount of sunlight reaching Earth’s
surface, especially around the edges of the shadow. Measurements from EPIC show
a 10% drop in light reflected from Earth during the eclipse (compared to about
1% on a normal day). That number will help scientists model how clouds radiate the
Sun’s energy – which drives our planet’s ocean currents, seasons, weather and
climate – away from our planet.
On Aug. 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse passed over North America. People throughout the continent captured incredible images of this celestial phenomenon. We and our partner agencies had a unique vantage point on the eclipse from space. Here are a few highlights from our fleet of satellites that observe the Sun, the Moon and Earth.
Our Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, which watches the Sun nearly 24/7 from its orbit 3,000 miles above Earth, saw a partial eclipse on Aug. 21.
SDO sees the Moon cross in front of the Sun several times a year. However, these lunar transits don’t usually correspond to an eclipse here on Earth, and an eclipse on the ground doesn’t guarantee that SDO will see anything out of the ordinary. In this case, on Aug. 21, SDO did see the Moon briefly pass in front of the Sun at the same time that the Moon’s shadow passed over the eastern United States. From its view in space, SDO only saw 14 percent of the Sun blocked by the Moon, while most U.S. residents saw 60 percent blockage or more.
Six people saw the eclipse from the International Space Station. Viewing the eclipse from orbit were NASA’s Randy Bresnik, Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson, the European Space Agency’s Paolo Nespoli, and Roscosmos’ Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Sergey Ryazanskiy. The space station crossed the path of the eclipse three times as it orbited above the continental United States at an altitude of 250 miles.
From a million miles out in space, our Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera, or EPIC, instrument captured 12 natural color images of the Moon’s shadow crossing over North America. EPIC is aboard NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, where it photographs the full sunlit side of Earth every day, giving it a unique view of the shadow from total solar eclipses. EPIC normally takes about 20 to 22 images of Earth per day, so this animation appears to speed up the progression of the eclipse.
A ground-based image of the total solar eclipse – which looks like a gray ring – is superimposed over a red-toned image of the Sun’s atmosphere, called the corona. This view of the corona was captured by the European Space Agency and our Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO. At center is an orange-toned image of the Sun’s surface as seen by our Solar Dynamics Observatory in extreme ultraviolet wavelengths of light.
During a total solar eclipse, ground-based telescopes can observe the lowest part of the solar corona in a way that can’t be done at any other time, as the Sun’s dim corona is normally obscured by the Sun’s bright light. The structure in the ground-based corona image — defined by giant magnetic fields sweeping out from the Sun’s surface — can clearly be seen extending into the outer image from the space-based telescope. The more scientists understand about the lower corona, the more they can understand what causes the constant outward stream of material called the solar wind, as well as occasional giant eruptions called coronal mass ejections.
As millions of Americans watched the total solar eclipse that crossed the continental United States, the international Hinode solar observation satellite captured its own images of the awe-inspiring natural phenomenon. The images were taken with Hinode’s X-ray telescope, or XRT, as it flew above the Pacific Ocean, off the west coast of the United States, at an altitude of approximately 422 miles. Hinode is a joint endeavor by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, the European Space Agency, the United Kingdom Space Agency and NASA.
During the total solar eclipse our Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, in orbit around the Moon, turned one of its instruments towards Earth to capture an image of the Moon’s shadow over a large region of the United States.
As LRO crossed the lunar south pole heading north at 3,579 mph, the shadow of the Moon was racing across the United States at 1,500 mph. A few minutes later, LRO began a slow 180-degree turn to look back at Earth, capturing an image of the eclipse very near the location where totality lasted the longest. The spacecraft’s Narrow Angle Camera began scanning Earth at 2:25:30 p.m. EDT and completed the image 18 seconds later.
From the unique vantage point of about 25,000 feet above Earth, our Associate Administrator of Science at NASA, Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, witnessed the 2017 eclipse. He posted this video to his social media accounts saying, “At the speed of darkness…watch as #SolarEclipse2017 shadow moves across our beautiful planet at <1 mile/second; as seen from GIII aircraft”.
Zurbuchen, along with NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot, Associate Administrator Lesa Roe traveled on a specially modified Gulfstream III aircraft flying north over the skies of Oregon.
In order to capture images of the event, the standard windows of the Gulfstream III were replaced with optical glass providing a clear view of the eclipse. This special glass limits glare and distortion of common acrylic aircraft windows. Heaters are aimed at the windows where the imagery equipment will be used to prevent icing that could obscure a clear view of the eclipse.
Learn more about the observations of the eclipse made from this aircraft HERE.
August 21, 2017, the United States experienced a solar eclipse!
An eclipse occurs when the Moon temporarily blocks the light from the Sun. Within the narrow, 60- to 70-mile-wide band stretching from Oregon to South Carolina called the path of totality, the Moon completely blocked out the Sun’s face; elsewhere in North America, the Moon covered only a part of the star, leaving a crescent-shaped Sun visible in the sky.
During this exciting event, we were collecting your images and reactions online.
Here are a few images of this celestial event…take a look:
This composite image, made from 4 frames, shows the International Space Station, with a crew of six onboard, as it transits the Sun at roughly five miles per second during a partial solar eclipse from, Northern Cascades National Park in Washington. Onboard as part of Expedition 52 are: NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson, Jack Fischer, and Randy Bresnik; Russian cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Sergey Ryazanskiy; and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Paolo Nespoli.
Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
The Bailey’s Beads effect is seen as the moon makes its final move over the sun during the total solar eclipse on Monday, August 21, 2017 above Madras, Oregon.
Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
This image from one of our Twitter followers shows the eclipse through tree leaves as crescent shaped shadows from Seattle, WA.
Credit: Logan Johnson
“The eclipse in the palm of my hand”. The eclipse is seen here through an indirect method, known as a pinhole projector, by one of our followers on social media from Arlington, TX.
Credit: Mark Schnyder
Through the lens on a pair of solar filter glasses, a social media follower captures the partial eclipse from Norridgewock, ME.
Credit: Mikayla Chase
While most of us watched the eclipse from Earth, six humans had the opportunity to view the event from 250 miles above on the International Space Station. European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Paolo Nespoli captured this image of the Moon’s shadow crossing America.
Credit: Paolo Nespoli
This composite image shows the progression of a partial solar eclipse over Ross Lake, in Northern Cascades National Park, Washington. The beautiful series of the partially eclipsed sun shows the full spectrum of the event.
Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
In this video captured at 1,500 frames per second with a high-speed camera, the International Space Station, with a crew of six onboard, is seen in silhouette as it transits the sun at roughly five miles per second during a partial solar eclipse, Monday, Aug. 21, 2017 near Banner, Wyoming.