Only a few humans were able to witness a total solar eclipse on Saturday (December 4), but some of them were in space.
The crew of Expedition 66 got a perfect view from a 360-degree window known as the Cupola, and although their orbit doesn’t take them directly over Antarctica, they were able to see it from space.
On Twitter, NASA astronaut Kayla Barron called the eclipse “an incredible sight to see” from space. From their perch on the International Space Station, the crew saw a long shadow of the moon fall on the face of the Earth.
Observations from space will be a welcome addition to the science of the solar eclipse given that so few people were able to see Saturday’s eclipse, which was only available in full phase in Antarctica and the surrounding ocean.
Solar eclipses occur when the moon passes in front of the sun, from the perspective of the Earth. The moon’s shadow is relatively small and only crosses a fraction of the planet’s surface. Normally eclipse hunters would be everywhere on this opportunity, but the combination of the pandemic and the isolated nature of Antarctica (home to researchers and penguins) meant that far fewer people saw this eclipse than habit, at least in full phase.
Besides the awe-inspiring sight of the corona (the sun’s atmosphere) peeking out over the surface, solar eclipses provide a rare opportunity for science because we can learn things about the sun that are not really achievable under normal conditions, according to The NASA.
“During a total eclipse, the lower parts of the solar atmosphere, or corona, can be seen in a way that cannot be completely reproduced by current human-made instruments,” NASA said in a description. of science carried out during a 2017 eclipse that unfolded across the United States.
The study of the corona, said NASA, “is essential to understanding many processes on the sun, including why the sun’s atmosphere is so much hotter than its surface, as well as the process by which the sun sends a constant flow of solar matter and radiation. ”
Then you can also learn more about “the Earth in unusual conditions,” the agency said, such as how the sun’s heat affects our planet’s upper atmosphere and the generation of a magnetic field known as ionosphere name.
Many more people will have the chance to see the next total solar eclipses. An opportunity in 2023 will cross South Asia, while the United States and Canada will see a total eclipse pass over parts of their larger territories the following year.