Gallery: When the Moon ate (most of) the Sun

By Phil Plait | May 21, 2012 9:15 am


Comments (35)

  1. philip.young

    Saw this eclipse with my son using a pinhole, then a mirror (the obverse). My son correctly pointed out the many crescents made by tree leaves during this event. It was not annular here in pine grove ca. I enjoy this blog and astronomy needs more advocates to clarify and educate. My wife still calls it astrology. Hoping to upload some ccd imaged soon as my scope is finished.

  2. Alan R.

    Why was this an annular eclipse coming just two weeks after the “Super Moon”?

  3. Rich Martin

    It was pretty cloudy here in Littleton, CO, but just past peak we ended up with a thin layer of clouds, just enough that I risked putting my camera unprotected in the telescope (and hoped not to smell smoke!) Here’s the result… it’s not quite as amazing as these, but I’m pretty proud of it!

  4. Rich Martin

    #2 Alan R.: There’s whole post on that subject here on this very blog!

  5. Chris H.

    @Alan R: I’m not a professional astronomer, but I had this same question. I think the short answer is that the Moon only takes 28 days to orbit the earth, so even when it is at it’s closest (perigee) it is only 14 days away from being at it’s furthest (apogee). We had a “super moon” because the moon was full at the closest point in it’s orbit, so 2 weeks later, when the moon reached it’s new phase (yesterday when the eclipse occurred) it was at the furthest part of it’s orbit again. I’m not sure this is exactly correct, but I think it’s close.

  6. Scott Manley

    I realised that thousands of people would make better eclipse pictures than myself, so I approached it from a more creative angle

  7. Because as it was very close in the eliptical orbit at full Moon it follows it was very small at new Moon. That’s just in one sentence, think about it; If you an’t figure it out I will explain further, just yell.

  8. Brian Carcich

    > Why was this an annular eclipse coming just two weeks after the “Super Moon”?

    The orbit of the moon around the earth is roughly an ellipse (, not a circle, and the orbital period is about four weeks. The size of the orbit does not change from one orbit to another (to first order; it does get larger but that is gradual and monotonic).

    So the moon is closest to the earth at one point in the orbit, farthest away at the opposite point around two weeks later, and then closest again two weeks after that.

    With that background, the answer to your query is straightforward: the “Super Moon” was a full moon i.e. Earth was between Sun and Moon, and the Moon was at its closest point in orbit; two weeks later Moon was between Earth and Sun and at farthest point in orbit.

    There are a few second-order effects, like the full moon and new moon happen at different points in Earth’s orbit around the Sun, about 15 degrees apart, but that is the basic gist of the answer.

  9. Alan: Phil wrote about the elliptical orbit of the Moon with Perigee and Apogee

    I’ve uploaded a few more pictures from the Republic of Boulder including some “behind-the-scenes” details plus how I “Macgyver’ed” a 10-stop ND filter that evening from my son’s eclipse glasses.

  10. Robert W.

    The “Super Moon” was a Full Moon that occured at the Moon’s perigee (closest point to Earth). Two weeks later, at New Moon, the Moon would be at apogee (farthest from Earth). That makes its angular size as small as possible, so it wasn’t large enough to completely cover the Sun during the eclipse.

  11. Keith K

    Well we didn’t get any direct views of the eclipse here, which was unfortunate. But we did get an afternoon of great views of the sun itself. After the sun set, the telescope was already in place for a cool view of Venus, a very slender crescent. Mars and a spectacular view of Saturn presented themselves a bit later in the evening. Not a total loss. And our rig is all set for the transit in a couple weeks.

  12. Kathleen Nelson

    I want to say thank you for the series of viewing tips you twittered and posted. We used the mirror set up that was shown in the you-tube clip you posted and were able to get a great series of pictures of the reflection in our back yard. My 13 y/o daughter was glued to the Google+ live cast when not running outside to take pictures and has asked for a telescope for her birthday next month.

    The telescope with solar filter is arriving this weekend and we should be set up for the transit on June 6th as an early surprise birthday gift.

    Count her as one more person you have turned on to the wonders of astronomy.

  13. DennyMo

    Some great pics. I think my favorite is the “Eclipse Eyes” from Alok Singhal.

  14. John O'Meara

    @Alan: because the moon’s orbit takes about a month! During super moon it’s at the distance of closest approach. Loosely speaking, a half orbit later it will be at the farthest it will be in an orbit.

  15. Aaron

    Amazing; even when 80-90% of the solar disk is covered, the 10-20% that remains visible is still friggin’ bright!

    Also, might one call an event in which the moon’s shadow is seen upon then face of the Earth a terrestrial eclipse?


    We drove up to the Emigrant Gap to watch it. It was worth the drive. The light got dimmer, the temperature dropped. It was really cool.

    We had some welders plates, 10, 11, 12 which really needed to be 14 from all the info I read. We just took quick looks through them. We also used a compact mirror to project the image on a car across the parking lot. People got a big kick out of that. I tried taking a picture through the #12 welders glass but it was STILL to bright, even at 95% occlusion. I am still kicking myself for not taking my little 50mm telescope and projecting an image through that onto a suitable screen.

    So here’s my question… what would I have needed to get a good photo and my $250 digital camera? I wasn’t really prepared for the whole thing, kind of a last minute “Why don’t we…?” I want to be ready for the TOTAL eclipse coming up in 2017.

    D. Scruggs

    Oops, I didn’t see the previous posts talking about how to do this. Try not to judge me to harshly.

  17. LSandman24

    The only problem with using welder’s goggles or a face shield is trying to simultaneously perform other tasks with them on. I don’t think any of the viewing sites offered that up as a safety note :-)

    ~Luke Sanders

  18. BCFD36

    I think the picture from the MTSAT with the shadow just off of Kamchatka is REALLY cool.

    D. Scruggs

  19. Amazing gallery!

    I live near Los Angeles. I thought about driving down to the beach to get a clear view, but when I saw clouds rolling in to the west, I decided to drive up into the hills to get above the cloud cover. I’m glad I did (though now that I’ve seen pictures, I would have liked to have seen it through a thin cloud layer), because a lot of other people had the same idea.

    Basically, I stumbled into an impromptu eclipse-viewing festival, and the best part was that everyone had brought different viewing equipment. I not only got to look at it with my own pinhole camera, but also a welding mask, a pair of eclipse glasses, and a filtered telescope. The lens flare technique was another good one that I picked up from someone else at the park.

    I’ve put together a photo essay of the afternoon, including images of how the eclipse looked through different devices, plus the sunset I stayed for afterward.

  20. SkinnyDennis

    We had a great time, the neighbors all came over for a potluck dinner eclipse party. I had genuine “eclipse viewer” cards (filter on a card to view thru) and best of all, I resurrected my old Celestron C8 scope that had been packed away for a good 20+ years. I found enough parts to put it together including disassembling, cleaning and reassembling my lowest power eyepiece so that the entire sun would be seen at once thru the scope, and I even found my 4″ off axis solar filter! If you looked closely you could see the mountains and valleys of the moon’s rim silhouetted against the sun.

    The sunspots also got some oohs! and aahs!

    A good time was had by all. Maybe I won’t pack the scope away again.

  21. MadScientist

    “When light rays from the Sun pass through a small hole, all the rays coming out are parallel, so they’re in focus.”

    Oh dear – no, that is not the case at all. Think about it. For a start, if all the rays were parallel then all you’d get is an 1:1 image of the hole. No, there’s another reason you can see resolved features. Also note that the photographs of the sun show a set of large sunspots and yet those features aren’t clear in the pinhole projections – but you can arrange to make a pinhole projection which shows the sunspots. That gets me thinking … can I get a pinhole projection to show Venus during the transit …

  22. joeshmoe554

    I didn’t have the right filter for my camera but I thought I would try to get a picture of the eclipse anyway. The end result wasn’t quite what I expected but I still like it all the same.
    Thankfully the sun moved out from behind 1 of the 2 clouds in the sky just before the moon started moving across the other side.

  23. Grand Lunar

    I had a good view of the eclipse, even though only 84% was covered.

    I used the pinhole method, saw the shadow on the wall, and used four sunglasses to get a view (probably not the best idea, but I did avoid damage).

    This was the first time I really got a good view of a solar eclipse.

  24. I saw this in Tokyo, but my attempts to take a photo through the three sets of sunglasses we were using failed spectacularly. Always use protection, kids.

  25. Messier Tidy Upper

    Some marvellous imges there – cheers. :-)

    Can’t wait til the November 14th solar eclipse which I’m planning to observe from Cairns Northern Australia.

  26. Off-topic but T-minus fifteen minutes and counting for the second attempt of launching SpaceX as of now.

    Looking good so far. Watching on NASA-TV as I type. (Online coverage link in my name here.) :-)

    NASAKennedy The SpaceX launch team gave its final “go” to launch. 1 min ago.

    Source : Twitter feed sidebar on the site linked to my name.

    EDIT : now T-minus 1 minutes 32 seconds. (5 minutes 01 secs to go editing time~wise for that.)

  27. #27 MTU:
    I’ll also be observing somewhere near Cairns on 14 Nov; I’m making the very long trip from the UK to your “fair” country. It will be my fifth total eclipse trip – two successes and two failures so far!
    I’ve never been to Oz yet* – so even if the eclipse is a no-go, I’ll still get to see your country. Also going to Sydney, Alice and Uluru.

    *I have, however, had the pleasure of meeting your country’s all-time greatest export… a certain Mr. K. B. Wilson. :-)

  28. Chris A.

    When making a pinhole camera/projector, there is an optimal size for the pinhole, based on two considerations:

    1) The smaller the hole, the sharper the image, since (ideally) you want every point in the object (the Sun) to map to exactly one point on the image plane.

    2) The larger the hole, the sharper the image, since light (as a wave) diffracts as it passes through an aperture.

    The “sweet spot” compromise (optimizing for the middle of the visible spectrum, 550 nm) between these conflicting factors gives the following formula:

    d = 1.158 * sqrt(D)

    or, if you prefer to design the projector around the size of the pinhole:

    D = 0.7452 * d^2

    d = diameter of the pinhole in mm
    D = distance between the pinhole and the projected image in meters.

    So, for a 2 m projection distance, your pinhole should be 1.6 mm. Note that the image will be pretty faint, so you may want to project inside a darkened space, like a cardboard mailing tube. I made one with a 1.6mm (1/16 inch) hole projecting 1.88 m (74 inches), and it looked pretty good on Sunday. Now I’m dying to see if it has the resolution and contrast to show Venus in transit.

  29. Tony H.

    @Chris H. Wow, you hit the nail on the head. That is the exact reason that all of that happened a couple of days ago.

    Also, thanks, Phil, for all these great shots. I wasn’t able to view it personally do to weather problems. I still watched it on the website, where they had live feeds from both California and New Mexico. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Now I am anticipating the Transit of Venus even more.

  30. Vickie

    Thank you thank you thank you! What wonderful photographs! I love the one with the leaf shadows on the ground.

    It was fun to make all the pinhole and box viewers and to get all the kids on the block excited. At first I was out on the street with all my gadgets watching as it began. One by one the neighborhood kids strolled by to see what was happening. Within a few minutes, I was conducting an impromptu class on the eclipse. Soon I had them making their own viewers with whatever we could find nearby. It’s these events that create an interest in astronomy and science if we are willing to share them.

    Kids need to be excited about learning and sites like yours and your twitter feeds and links make it easy to do that. Kudos.


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