ANOTHER insanely awesome shot of the solar eclipse?!

By Phil Plait | January 8, 2011 7:00 am

Y’know, I should never deal in superlatives. I said Thierry Legault’s shot of the ISS during the solar eclipse last week was the best picture of it, but now, as amazing as that picture is, I think we’ve found something to tie it: the Japanese solar observing satellite Hinode took this jaw-dropping video:

OK, I’ll say it: Holy Haleakala!

Hinode (pronounced HEEN-oh-day, which I’m telling you because I always say HI-node in my head when I see it) orbits the Earth, and has a near-continuous view of the Sun. When the Moon slipped between us and our star on January 4, Hinode had what might have been the best view. This video was made using images from the X-Ray Telescope, or XRT, and is sensitive to objects at temperatures of millions of degrees — the Sun’s magnetic field routinely generates such energies. You can see the looping material on the Sun, following the arcing lines of magnetism. The Moon is dark at these wavelengths, so it appears black in the video.

The other cool thing is the size difference between the Sun and the Moon. The Sun is roughly 400x bigger than the Moon and 400x farther away, so they look about the same size in the sky. But the Moon orbits the Earth in an ellipse, and can change its distance to us by quite a bit, well over 10% — that means its apparent diameter as seen on Earth can change by 10% too.

During the eclipse, the Moon was roughly 391,000 km away from Hinode, a good 6000 km more than average, making the Moon appear somewhat smaller than average. Not only that, but the Earth orbits the Sun in an ellipse as well, and it so happens this eclipse happened within hours of perihelion, when the Earth was closest to the Sun. That difference is only about 3%, but still, every little bit helps! The Sun was about as big as it can be at the same time the Moon was smaller than usual, so the Moon couldn’t completely cover the Sun.

And you can see that in this video! Even when the Moon is solidly in front of the Sun, you can still see a ring of Sun around the Moon. This type of eclipse is called an annular eclipse (annulus mean ring)*.

And here’s your thought for the day: right now, the Moon recedes from the Earth at a rate of about 4 cm a year due to tides (y’know, those things Bill O’Reilly doesn’t understand). Over time it’ll move so far away that even with its elliptical orbit it’ll always be smaller than the Sun, and every solar eclipse will be annular. So you’d better watch these eclipses while you can. In a billion years or so there won’t be any more total ones.

Tip o’ the welder’s goggles to Alexrkr7. Image credit: Hinode/XRT

* Too bad the Sun was in Sagittarius at the time, and not Taurus. HAHAHAHA! Get it? Taurus? Like torus? No? OK, go back to the main text.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff

Comments (35)

  1. Chris Caprette

    It is a really cool video. I noticed that the patterns on the sun don’t appear to change during the moon’s transit, almost as if a black disk were moved across a still image of the sun. At first I wondered if this video was faked but then I wondered perhaps if this had something to do with Hinode’s field of view?

  2. KAE

    I agree with Chris Caprette (first post). I was expecting more from this video. If it were posted anywhere else I would say it was a fake. Sorry Phil, but I like the first image of the ISS against the eclipse better.

  3. I always find that it’s easier to pronounce Japanese correctly in my head if I think in terms of the hiragana: ひので

  4. Utakata

    HEE-la-ga-na, Meng Bomin?

    (I heard also Bill O’Reilly is pronounced BA-ka.)

    As for the clip…having the transition speeped up like that always reminds me of billiard balls moving past each other not actually gracefully large celestial bodies that they are. :(

  5. jearley

    While the video was pretty cool, the best part of this post was the link to Colbert on Bill O’Lielly’s ignorance of gravitation. I guess I missed that at some point. It was really funny, and thanks for the link, Phil.

  6. Chris, KAE (1,2): The whole eclipse didn’t last long from the satellite’s perspective, so there wasn’t much change on the Sun. Keep your eyes focuses on one spot and you’ll see some small changes.

  7. And no apologies from me. I think it’s crazy awesome. :) It’s amazing we can do this at all!

  8. Larry

    Taurus as in Torus? I thought you meant a “bull ring.”

  9. Carl

    It appears that the moon’s path across the frame forms an arc which surprised me. Is this due to the motion of the satellite during the transit?

  10. Aaron

    @6. Phil Plait:
    It is difficult to focus on one spot, because the moon gets in the way! That is pretty crazy awesome, indeed.

  11. Bob

    That was…pretty boss! Cool. That wasn’t real time, was it?


  12. jearley

    Maybe there have been so many incredible videos and images over the last week that we are on ‘awesomeness overload’ ! This one is way up towards the top.

  13. Alexrkr7

    This is now the desktop on my computer! This video as short as it may be really makes me appreciate the immense forces swirling around us. I mean, the moon is just flying around out there! Ok, sorry; just having a moment over here.

  14. Joseph G

    Hmm, the video isn’t working for me today.
    Anyway, to be fair, I try to cut BillO some slack – O’Reilly is one of the few conservative commentators out there who doesn’t subscribe to the “Global Warming is a hippie liberal hoax” conspiracy theory nonsense. In fact, I once heard him call for oil company execs to be hauled before congress to answer questions about their manipulation of the political process.

    I was surprised to hear him get into this sort of thing. Normally his attitude is more sensible and along the lines of conceding that he doesn’t know much about science and that we should trust scientists to explain it correctly.
    He may be a creationist, but that’s not exactly rare these days, unfortunately.

  15. breadbox

    I suspect the people who thought this was faked have watched too many of those videos of solar activity. It’s worth remembering that those videos are sped up, with a ratio of hours to seconds.

    Remember how incredibly huge the sun is! It takes a while for something to move far enough across it to be seen in a movie of that size.

  16. Joseph G

    Also, not to nitpick, but tides alone aren’t what’s causing the moon to recede, right? IIUC, the fact that the earth rotates relatively quickly (about 30 times per lunar orbit, obviously) means that the tidal bulges that the moon raises are “dragged” by the rotating earth, which pulls on the moon ever so slightly. The moon steals angular momentum from the earth – the earth’s rotation slows down as the moon gains velocity and therefore distance from the earth.
    My understanding is that if the earth were tidally locked to the sun, or even if it rotated more slowly then once per month, that the moon would slowly move closer instead. No?

  17. Joseph G

    Anyway, I’ll stop being a wet blanket now :)
    Very cool!!! The sun looks so different in X-Rays. There’s a lot more variation in brightness then with any images in visible light I’ve seen.

  18. Joseph G

    @#14 Breadbox: Yeah, I recall seeing a very cool video of the sun posted several weeks or months ago, with timestamps. Each frame was something like 6 hours apart. I think the whole several seconds was was taken over several hundred hours.

    It makes me think, when people express disappointment at the “low” speed of light (that is, how long it must take us to get anywhere in interstellar space) that it’s not an issue of astronomical processes taking an unfathomably long time, it’s just that we move so darn fast. Us uppity warm-blooded mammals with our big, easily bored brains and short, genetically determined lifespans. We’re the reason this stuff seems to move so slowly, not the universe 😛
    On a related note, I do think that we’ll travel between the stars one day, but it won’t be with some kind of warp drive – it’ll be by figuring out how to extend our lives indefinitely.
    That, and learning some patience :)

  19. Hevach

    @13. Joseph G: Yes, he is. In 2008, he stated global warming is cyclical, that humans are not just not effecting it currently but may be unable to effect it (tempered with “in my opinion”). He said climate science isn’t science, “It’s all guesswork, and I’ll leave the definitive word to the deity.” Now, granted I suppose simply acknowledging that it’s happening and that regardless there’s no reason not to develop better fuels is enough to make him one of the reasonable conservative commentators – Beck and Limbaugh both criticized him over that guesswork comment because to them, it’s not all guesswork, it’s all fraud.

  20. Joseph G

    @#18 Hevach: Really? Hmm. I guess that’s not too surprising, but I could swear I heard him say (in the last year or so) something to the effect that humans should reduce their CO2 output.
    Of course it may have been something along the lines of “Maybe AGW is real, maybe not, couldn’t hurt to stop polluting so much.” He just seems halfway reasonable at times.
    That’s still light years better then Limbaugh et al, who seem to actually enjoy conspicuously polluting just to piss people off.
    I dunno, for whatever reason, I have a soft spot or tolerant streak or whatever for O’Reilly that I don’t for the other blowhards. It may just be some weird personal pathology I can’t explain. I used to watch him a lot before Colmes left the channel and Beck came on. I do enjoy listening to people I disagree with so I can practice forming coherent arguments in my head, but Hannity and Beck just make blood come out of my ears 😛

  21. T-storm

    People beat me to my fake post. I figured it was a time thing, too. So what’s the wavelength of green cheese? They should have tuned into that.

  22. Emery Emery

    At 0.04 seconds you can get a freeze frame that actually shows the surface of the moon! It’s not easy to do but it’s so worth the effort!

  23. I had already seen it in Nasa’s site and I realy could not believe it! When I showed it to my family they all looked like the coyote of the roadruner: realy jaw-dropped.

  24. Kimpatsu

    It’s pronounced “hee-no-day”, Phil. It means “Sunrise”.
    Submit all your Japanese-related questions to me!

  25. Levi in NY

    Why does the dark area near the bottom of the Sun appear even darker when the Moon passes by?

  26. Messier Tidy Upper

    Awesome breath-taking clip. I love it. 8)

    (Those sunglasses seem unusually apt this time.)

    Click here :

    For more info. on Hinode.

    Somewhat surprised that they’re using the Hiragana ( ) and not the Kanji characters ( ) there myself. Same kanji in ‘Hinode’ as ‘nichi’ in ‘Sun’ I presume but different proununciation?

    As for Beck well Colbert wa sfunny -except I think Neil Dg. Tyson already thinks he’s god for allhe seem s todeny it. :roll:

    Oddly enough here in Adelaide, Sth Oz, I can now watch the Colbert repor and also John Stewart’s Daily Show on ABC-2 TV but we can’t – & I’ve never seen O’Reilly’s show. I have seen Bill O’Reilly interviewed on Letterman and he seemed to come across okay.

  27. Paul in Sweden

    Hinode (pronounced HEEN-oh-day)

    Thanks for that tidbit Phil. I always like it when people take the time to tell us how to pronounce names.

    As for that video clip… all I can say is Holy HEEN-oh-day! Normally I do not participate in this ooo ahhh posting but that was freakin’ awesome. :)

  28. Messier Tidy Upper

    D’oh! That was intended to read :

    As for the O’Reilly thing, well Colbert was certainly funny there – except I think Neil Dg. Tyson *already* thinks he’s god for all he seemed to deny that. :roll:

    Goshdurn typos! :-(

    From what – very little indeed – I’ve seen of him Bill O’Reilly seems to have a sense of humour & be fairly reasonable for a political pundit. Which, I guess, isn’t saying all that much actually! 😉

    @27. Paul in Sweden : Holy HEEN-oh-day!

    LOL. Nice one. :-)

  29. Just to give folks a sense of the timing, the time from first to last contact was ~14 minutes. If you want to see more of the data it is publicly available at Unfortunately, it is in Japanese.

  30. Keith Bowden

    Torus? You really should be on The Big Bang Theory. :)

  31. I don’t understand the concept that prompted Phil’s comment that “the moon is dark at these wavelengths.” I would not expect to see the disk of the moon illuminated regardless of the spectral response of the camera system. The shadow side of the moon can only be illuminated by sunlight that is reflected by the earth. The photos of the sun-space station partial eclipse show that even with perfect alignment along the sun-moon-earth axis, the intensity of the direct solar radiation totally overwhelms it’s reflection shining off the back side of the moon.

  32. Joseph G

    Heh, speaking of Bill O’Reilly and the sun, I wonder whatever happened to NOSBOIS (National Organization to Shoot Bill O’Reilly Into the Sun)? It was an old satire site that was around for awhile. Its mission statement said something like “Our goal is not to harm Mr. O’Reilly, we simply think that his skills could be put to better use from the surface of the sun.”


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