What does a lunar eclipse look like from the Moon?

By Phil Plait | February 19, 2009 7:00 am

A lunar eclipse is when the Earth passes between the Sun and Moon, casting a shadow on the lunar surface. From the Earth, we see a circular bite taken out of the Moon, a dark arc slowly growing, mimicking the crescent Moon shape.

But what does it look like from the Moon? Well, if you were standing there, looking around, you’d see it grow darker, the landscape around you enshrouded in shadow.

Btu if you looked up… you might see this:

Lunar eclipse as seen from Kaguya

That magnificent sight is the Sun being eclipsed by the Earth as seen from the Moon. Specifically, it’s taken by the Japanese probe Kaguya as it orbited our own satellite. How awesome is that? Usually, the diamond ring effect is seen in a solar eclipse, when the Moon blocks the Sun as seen from Earth. Sunlight peaks around lunar mountains and valleys, creating what looks like a wedding ring in the sky. But not this time: that’s the Earth’s atmosphere lit up, a circle of a sunlight, a ring of a thousand simultaneous sunrises and sunsets.

Think about it: for tens of thousands of years, humans have watched in awe as the Moon slowly gets eaten by the Earth’s shadow. Over the generations myths have been attributed to it, legends and stories told about the Moon being eaten by dragons and other fanciful tales. Eventually we learned what it really meant (the ancient Greeks knew, those clever people)… but it’s only been in the past few years that we’ve been able to be there when it happens.

And it’s now that we can turn around, look back home, and see where it all began. Sometimes you have to travel far to understand where your journey began.

Tip o’ the eclipse-safe goggles to BABloggee STUARTATK. Image Credit: JAXA/NHK. Also, Emily has more.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (70)

  1. Todd W.

    Now if only there were video of the eclipse…

  2. T.E.L.

    There’s a scene in Fritz Lang’s film ‘Frau im Mond’ that looks like this. It’s when the spaceship is outbound toward the Moon, and the passengers look back to Earth for the first time. The Sun is just barely eclipsed, but slowly emerging, with Earth’s atmosphere aglow, and Moonshine illuminating Europe and Africa. It’s truly beautiful.

  3. Just amazing. Brilliant! Great for the Japanese to have done this.

    And now NASA has announced that we’re launching twin missions to Jupiter (and its moons) and Saturn/Titan. And we’re doing it directly in conjunction with the European Space Agency. These kinds of international endeavors, with true real science and extraordinary exploration – goodness I’m amazed and excited!

  4. cuggy

    Might we call this a “Terran Eclipse”?

  5. cuggy

    or at least would the Loonies call it that?

  6. Odd image. Do you know if it was retouched? The sunset/sunrise looks so pixelated. Is that a poor image, or is that effect from the earths atmosphere? I’d imagine that the camera on the Kaguya wouldn’t have any solar filters on it.

    Oh, and Phil, a small typo. The last sentence before the photo you wrote ‘Btu’ instead of ‘But’

  7. Tomas

    clearly, Earth’s angular size will be a few times that of the Sun viewed from the Moon, so … would you be able to see (parts of) the Sun’s corona, or it is too small, or would Earth’s atmosphere be too bright? any ideas?

  8. @cuggy
    For the Loonies it is an eclipse of the Sun by the Earth.

  9. That is a spectacular image, indeed!

  10. Corey

    Spectacular. I was actually just thinking about this a few days ago, wondering what it would look like and all.

  11. Michael

    Since it’s also the sun that is eclipsed (from the moon’s point of view), it should also be called “solar eclipse”.

  12. The view would be so much nicer from my lunar colony.

  13. Second Best Image Ever.. This is almost as good as the Phoenix’s Landing picture!!!

  14. Randy

    Surveyor 3 was the first lunar spacecraft to image such and eclipse.
    (An eclipse of the Sun by the Earth)
    This was the Surveyor that Apollo 12 visited.
    http://www.bibalex.org/eclipse2006/MoonEclipse.htm
    http://strangepaths.com/total-lunar-eclipse/2007/02/27/en/

  15. Gary Ansorge

    That miniscule ring is all that allows us to breath. Shows just how fragile a living planet really is, with such a thin rind of atmosphere.

    I expect second generation Loonies would see this and think ” We came from THAT? But, where’s the air???”.

    GAry 7

  16. cuggy

    @Bertier /smacks forhead. right. of course.

    It must be thursday… I never could get the hang of thursdays

  17. Todd W.

    @Gary Ansorge

    Actually, the loonies would look at that and wonder what the hell the government is pumping into our air to make it glow like that. Kinda like that lady that has a video up on YouTube of the rainbow in her sprinkler’s spray.

  18. IVAN3MAN

    @ Gary 7 & Todd W.,

    They are not loonies, they are Clangers:

  19. mapnut

    Suggestions as to why the ring doesn’t go all the way around?

  20. Grump

    Phil, it’s easy to see that you were born to be an astronomer. You have a way of taking an awsome image and then putting a spin on it that’s even awesomer! Kudos. :)

  21. Mark

    @mapnut

    Saw this first on planetary.org. This is an “Earthrise” image that coincides with an eclipse. So the missing chunk is the lunar horizon “getting in the way”.

    Beautiful image, and lucky (or good planning) to be in the right place at the right time that they could capture it.

  22. I saw a presentation given by the Japanese space agency, and asked whether they’d get an image like this. They said probably not due to spacecraft survival issues (lunar eclipses are pretty long). Looks like they worked a way to figure it out. Hopefully we’ll see more pictures like this in the future.

  23. Adrian Lopez

    I expect the reason the Sun looks round in that picture is due to an optical illusion, right? Part of the Sun is actually being obscured by the earth, but you can’t see it because of how intense the light is?

  24. Thanny

    I simply cannot get enough of spacecraft images showing what we can never see from Earth.

    As a side note, I opened this page when “Less Than a Pearl” by Enya was playing in iTunes, and it’s quite fitting.

  25. “Now if only there were video of the eclipse” – well, here is the video, as readers of my Twitter feed and The Cosmic Mirror know already.

  26. Dennis

    Awesome!
    After seeing that incredible video of the moon transiting the earth, shot from waaay out in space, I found myself thinking, “I wonder what an eclipse of the sun by the earth would look like from the moon”. And now here it is! I love these Discover blogs!
    What an incredible era we live in, where we no longer have to merely wonder about such things – We actually get to see them!

  27. @mapnut,

    Suggestions as to why the ring doesn’t go all the way around?

    Thumb in front of lens? :-)

    Neither is a perfect sphere, so they may not match up as perfectly as we would expect. Neil DeGrasse Tyson has described the earth as pear shaped, so maybe the extra bulging at the bottom is what we are seeing. OTOH, this is in space, where top and bottom are not from the same perspective as from earth (a European/American centered view of top and bottom).

  28. Wouldnt this be called a solar eclipse at this point? :)

  29. Todd W.

    This was totally done on a soundstage by pointing the camera at a lighting instrument with a poorly fitting blackout disk in front of it. I mean, where are the stars? Why are there no stars? :P

  30. Jeff Fite

    The missing arc of the Earth’s atmosphere could also be blocked by the Moon’s horizon. The aperture must be stopped down pretty small in order to take a picture directly into the sun–I imagine a nightside lunar arc across the bottom of the picture wouldn’t be visible.

    Jus’ speculatin’.

  31. T.E.L.

    Rogue Medic,

    Earth’s very minuscule asphericity doesn’t play a role here: from the Moon, Earth subtends an angle more than three and a half times that of the Sun. This means that the ring isn’t the Sun behind the Earth. The very bright flare is the Sun itself just barely peaking from behind. The ring is sunlight that’s been scattered & refracted by the atmosphere.

  32. MadScientist

    I can’t find much information on ‘Kaguya’ (like: is it orbiting the EARTH or the MOON?)

    Whatever the case, it seems there are 3 satellites in the constellation: the main bird at 100km, and two highly eccentric birds with a minor axis of 100km and major axes of 800km and 2400km.

    This is *looks* like an annular eclipse with the ‘diamond ring’ but it’s not:

    Mean distance between center of earth and moon: 384400km
    Moon radius: 1737km
    Earth radius: 6370km

    moon as seen from earth: 0.518 degrees (just enough to cover the sun)
    earth as seen from moon: 1.90 degrees

    SO: it is definitely NOT an annular eclipse. What we see is the sun on the edge of the earth with diffraction (I don’t know if it’s diffraction around the earth or within the camera) resulting in what appears to be a round sun. The halo is the earth’s atmosphere scattering all that light. The diameter of the sun can be checked because most of the sun is still ‘above’ (if you can call it that) the earth and you’ll see that almost 4 suns will fit within the ring.

  33. T.E.L.,

    I thought that the diamond ring effect was due to the variations in the surface of the earth. mountains, valleys, and such. That this is not uncommon in annular eclipses.

  34. MadScientist,

    Thank you for explaining my misunderstanding about this being an annular eclipse, which I did not understand from T.E.L.’s comment. I am curious about why the halo disappears right next to where the sun is visible.

  35. MadScientist

    Oh – I agree with Michael: this is a solar eclipse. I was staring at the title and thinking ‘huh? lunar eclipse from the moon?’ The earth eclipses the sun every day and we call this ‘night’; I imagine that on the moon, the moon blocking the sun would also be called ‘night’ (unless you were on the lit part but near a mountain or crater, then the darkness is called a ‘shadow’).

  36. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    And now NASA has announced that we’re launching twin missions to Jupiter (and its moons) and Saturn/Titan.

    No-o, I don’t think that was what happened. Seems to me NASA was supposed to choose one flagship mission, but instead targeted the less complicated/interleaved/technically and politically riskier Jupiter/moons mission and left in a study (or possibly more) of the Saturn/moons mission for possibly political reasons.

    Probably mainly european politics in such a case: ESA will now have the option to study and/or develop both, one or none. The corresponding ESA decision point is, IIRC, two years later?! (As someone noted, perhaps they should start to synchronize their strategy schedules if they are to cooperate.)

    But for those in the know; did Jupiter really needed a flagship mission, or could it have answered the big questions on the cheap with one or two small missions? Studying the nearest atmospheric/hydrological equivalent to Earth, Titan, would probably benefit from a Mars program equivalent: separate missions for a data relay/radar orbiter, balloons for below-the-haze optical mapping, landers (or rovers; or boats; or perhaps hovercrafts ? :-) , … But at least we are going somewhere!

  37. @Torbjorn – Looks like you are right. I got the info from an article on MSNBC that was headlined “Bold missions to Jupiter and Saturn planned
    Both missions involve multiple spacecraft sent to explore the gas giants”

    But it looks like Space(dot)com is reported something more akin to what you are saying.

    Hope they can launch missions to both places. Those moons in particular are fascinating.

  38. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Hmm, yes, hovercrafts. Pity with the energy requirement, and then I realized that a rover program will run slam dunk in the larger problem of the currently restricted nuclear isotope availability. (Perhaps that is why they call them flagship missions anyway?) Must it always be politics of security and/or economics with these things? Sigh.

  39. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @Cheyenne – I agree. Now, I’m fond of the Jupiter mission as well, since knowledge of gas giants will probably help constrain planetary formation models and so the current exoplanet search and its applications?! But Enceladus is easy pickings, and Titan is even more alive [Cue mystery theme music.]

  40. Jakub Dudzinski

    Inspiring image, inspiring piece of blogging :)
    Keep it up!

  41. Caleb

    @Cheyenne

    >> Just amazing. Brilliant! Great for the Japanese to have done this.

    >> And now NASA has announced that we’re launching twin missions to Jupiter (and its moons) and Saturn/Titan. And we’re doing it directly in conjunction with the European Space Agency. These kinds of international endeavors, with true real science and extraordinary exploration – goodness I’m amazed and excited!

    And this is one of the incalculable benefits of scientific exploration. When we work together to explore the universe, suddenly many our differences/problems down here on earth seem insignificant. I’d say that it’s not just that they’re insignificant, but that only when our world view includes the universe around us do we actually have a true perspective on our existence.

    Reminds me of one of my favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QADMMmU6ab8

  42. bjn

    I’m betting the color isn’t very accurate, probably because the image sensor was maxed-out by the brightness of the ring. The penumbra of Earth’s shadow makes the moon look orange because it’s seeing a ring of “sunsets”. I’d expect an accurate colr exposure for the ring to show sunset colors on most of it.

    Very cool image.

  43. @ Rogue Medic:

    I think the phenomenon you are thinking of is “Bailey’s Beads,” which is the sudden unexpected appearance of the sun through valleys along the rim of the moon just before or after a total eclipse of the sun, when the bulk of the sun’s disk is behind the lunar horizon.

  44. @kuhnigget,

    Yes. I guess that does not apply, since this is not an annular eclipse.

  45. T.E.L. Says: “There’s a scene in Fritz Lang’s film ‘Frau im Mond’ that looks like this. It’s when the spaceship is outbound toward the Moon, and the passengers look back to Earth for the first time. The Sun is just barely eclipsed, but slowly emerging, with Earth’s atmosphere aglow, and Moonshine illuminating Europe and Africa. It’s truly beautiful.”

    And all the more impressive when you consider that it was done in 1929!

    That’s still the most accurate depiction of the Earth as seen from space in any fiction film that I can think of (and I include 2001 in that statement).

    - Jack

  46. Carmen

    “Sometimes you have to travel far to understand where your journey began.”

    I couldn’t have put it better myself.

  47. Strictly speaking, this is an OCCULTATION of the Sun by the Earth, not an eclipse! An eclipse occurs when one body moves through the shadow of another – so while the term “lunar eclipse” ( as seen from Earth ) is correct, the term “solar eclipse”, or “eclipse of the Sun” is a misnomer! A total solar eclipse is really an occultation of the Sun by the Moon, and an annular eclipse is really a transit of the Moon.
    But of course, the term “solar eclipse” has been used for centuries, long before the definitions were formalised, so we’re stuck with it for reasons of tradition.

  48. Juniper from Jupiter

    Two words only:

    Beautiful & Thanks. :-)

  49. @ Jack:

    Speaking of Frau im Mond, I don’t suppose you know anything about the rocketship that was depicted in that film? ;)

  50. T.E.L.

    kuhnigget,

    What interests you about the rocket?

  51. alfaniner

    Here’s another video that was made in March of 2007. A simulation, yes, but it was neat to see how North America rotates into view, as the eclipse was visible (from Earth, of course) on the horizon.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0nOJ9f6RXA

  52. icemith

    The angular size of the Sun here is a constant, whether it is viewed from the Earth, or from the Moon, (give or take a smidgin). Therefore the relationship in the eclipse would be essentially the same, so far as size is concerned. But the Earth is actually four times as large as the Moon, so the Sun is well and truly obscured behind an (apparently) much larger object

    I wondered why there was a large gap in the “Ring”. However viewing the Kaguya movie, provided @Stu above, gives a clue. Though the ring is pretty much the same thickness, I guess it IS the glowing atmosphere of the Earth, and this is shown in the photo BA provided in the blog. But from the movie we are shown the eclipse from before it reaches the center of the Earth disk, I’m guessing again, it has to do with angles of refraction through the Earth’s atmosphere. We see it starting with a very fine crescent, in fact I thought that the video was not working at all, as there was no sound. (What! No 2001 music? Oh yeah, you can’t hear anything in Space!)

    That crescent grew till the glare from the Sun at about 4 o’clock finally saturated the whole scene. But the corresponding other limb of the crescent happened to be at 8 o’clock, and not yet completing the ring. this is where I feel the sensor clagged-up, utterly overloaded, and froze. whether there is anymore after that, and whether it recovered, we may not know.

    One thing is for sure, the Photo is a frame from BEFORE the totally overloaded section, and was probably chosen to resemble the ubiquitous “Wedding Ring” shots from Earth bound eclipses. The only other thing that bothers me is that the Sun’s hidden traverse as it were, does not actually line-up exactly with the Earth’s center, but passes far enough beyond the edge that it is totally obscured, and that it is when it is about to re-appear, that we see the crescent effect. Obviously no solar filter is used for the major part of the eclipse, hence the severe glare as the Sun re-appears. There would probably have been a similar effect before the Sun was eclipsed.

    Ivan.

  53. T.E.L.

    I just looked at the movie. It looks to me like an Earthrise. That’s why the ring is missing from the bottom: it’s still behind the Moon’s horizon.

  54. The movie was posted on youtube as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3Z00SxC_Vk

    Be sure to click “watch in HD” and click full-screen to see it at full resolution.

  55. Angoras Rids

    So the moon isn’t mad out of cheese ?

  56. Dave Chapman

    In fact, this is all a bit misleading. The eclipse of February 9, 2009 was a penumbral eclipse, so NO part of the Moon was “enshrouded in shadow” except on the usual dark side facing away from the Sun. From anywhere on the sunlit side of the Moon, there would have been a partial view of the Sun. The apparent diamond ring effect takes place when the Sun rises above the Moon’s horizon (dimly seen in the photo) from the vantage point of the spacecraft. So what we are seeing is the partially eclipsed Sun at sunrise. It is still a striking photo/movie but the interpretations are way off target.

  57. Did yall know that the sun is going to blow up in 5 billion years but we still have a long time to live but sometimes it seems like your saying 5 years.

  58. Joseph

    WOW, THIS IS EXTREMELY AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! although I did miss the lunar eclips last night. I’m sad about that. And when you say it will happen in a “few” years, how many years “exactly” is it going to happen because since i missed one, i want to know when it happens again please. oh Hey GoldenSniper, you may not know me, and I don’t mean to be a smart, know it all or anything, but, I know this for sure, the sun is not going to blow up in 5 billion years its going to blow up in exactly 98765453766475648664856776745867586775757477576845712 years. and i’m NOT LYING AT ALL!!!! ( no mean to correct you )I cauculated all times the sun’s fire shoots out diffrent places and when it does it too much and overheats, (overflows, ect.) and found out the actual date’s temp. and got 98765453766475648664856776745867586775757477576845712 years. O.k……. just making sure. but yes it does seem like its 5 years. and the picture you posted lokes gorgious to stare at all day

  59. da cool science perso

    thats a really cool picture

  60. sumedh

    I THINK IT WILL LOOK SOLAR ECLIPSE.
    1)TOTAL SOLAR =TOTAL LUNAR/ANNULAR
    2)PARTIAL SOLAR=PARTIAL LUNAR

  61. WOW, THIS IS EXTREMELY AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! although I did miss the lunar eclips last night. I’m sad about that. And when you say it will happen in a “few” years, how many years “exactly” is it going to happen because since i missed one, i want to know when it happens again please. oh Hey GoldenSniper, you may not know me, and I don’t mean to be a smart, know it all or anything, but, I know this for sure, the sun is not going to blow up in 5 billion years its going to blow up in exactly 98765453766475648664856776745867586775757477576845712000 years. and i’m NOT LYING AT ALL!!!! ( no mean to correct you )I cauculated all times the sun’s fire shoots out diffrent places and when it does it too much and overheats, (overflows, ect.) and found out the actual date’s temp. and got 98765453766475648664856776745867586775757477576845712 years. O.k……. just making sure. but yes it does seem like its 5 years. and the picture you posted lokes gorgious to stare at all day

  62. lol

    A lunar eclipse is similar to a solar eclipse from the viewpoint of the moon, and a solar eclipse is similar to “loonies” what a lunar eclipse looks like to us. But the moon blocks out some of the light casting a shadow on the earth.
    I want to see what the earth looks like from the moon when it’s shadow is cast on the earth because the moon is blocking the sun.

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