How the Great American Eclipse looked from space

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter turned its sights to the Earth, imaging the Moon’s shadow as it made its way across the surface of our planet


The solar eclipse cast a shadow that went from Oregon to South Carolina. Image credit: NASA/GSFC/ASU

During the Great American Eclipse on the 21 August 2017, Arizona State University’s (ASU) Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) imaged the Earth’s surface. The shot reveals the enormous shadow to be covering a large portion of the United States, and it is centred near Nashville, Tennessee.

The LRO is fitted with three cameras primarily designed to examine the lunar terrain, two of these cameras are Narrow Angle Cameras that capture high-resolution black-and-white images. The third camera is a Wide Angle Camera, which captures moderate-resolution images using filters to unveil the properties and colour of the Moon’s surface.

As the orbiter zipped across the south lunar pole, travelling at 3,579 miles per hour (1,600 metres per second), it began a slow 180-degree turn towards the Earth. With the shadow moving across the United States at a speed of 1,500 miles per hour (670 metres per second), the NASA spacecraft captured an image of the eclipse near the location where totality lasted the longest.

This black-and-white image of Earth was taken at 18:25 UTC, and only took 18 seconds to capture. The video above shows the gradual adjustment of grey-levels and saturation of the background to emphasise the eclipse, removing the background features. The umbra (completely shadowed region) seems to be centred just north of Nashville, Tennessee, and the penumbra (partially shadowed) covers a large area of the United States.

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