Here’s what tomorrow’s total eclipse would look like if you could watch it from a million miles away in space

By Tom Yulsman | August 20, 2017 12:39 pm

A total solar eclipse on March 9, 2016, as seen by  NASA’s DSCOVR spacecraft.

Millions of people across the United States will cast their gaze upward to watch tomorrow’s total solar eclipse as it passes across the breadth of the nation. But what would it look like if you could gaze down on it from a million miles away in space?

For an answer, check out the animation above. It consists of 13 images acquired by the EPIC camera aboard NASA’s DSCOVR spacecraft during a total solar eclipse on March 9, 2016. Watch for the dark shadow that progresses across the Pacific Ocean starting northwest of Australia and moving to the northwest.


The Lagrange Point 1, where NASA’s DSCOVR spacecraft is parked, is located between the Sun and Earth. This allows it to see the shadow cast by the moon on the surface of the Earth during an eclipse. (Source: NASA)

The EPIC camera followed the shadow cast by the moon on Earth from its location at the Sun-Earth first Lagrange point. The total eclipse is limited to the center black area of the shadow. The outer regions experienced a partial eclipse, allowing a view of surface features like clouds to be seen.

With each frame of the animation, the Earth rotates on its axis at the same time that the Moon’s progress in its orbit causes its shadow to advance across the Pacific.

Here’s a closeup of one of the images from DSCOVR, showing the Moon’s shadow in the Pacific Ocean north of Australia:


Source: NASA

Many spacecraft have observed eclipses over the years. What follows is a sampling:

The short video clip above shows the shadow of the total eclipse of March 2016 as seen by the Himawari-8 satellite from 22,236 miles above Earth’s surface.

Closer still is NASA’s Terra satellite, which acquired this stunningly beautiful view of the Moon’s shadow over the clouds in the Arctic Ocean during an eclipse on On March 20, 2015:

NASA's Terra satellite captured this beautiful image of the Moon's shadow over the clouds in the Arctic Ocean during an eclipse on On March 20, 2015. The snow-covered Arctic archipelago of Svalbard is visible to the left of the image. (Source: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team)

Source: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

Terra’s polar orbit 438 miles above the surface takes it from north to south (on the daylight side of the Earth) every 99 minutes. In this image, the dark red and rust colors to the right show an area of partial eclipse. To the left of the image is the snow-covered archipelago of Svalbard. And in the top half, fractured sea ice is visible.

Zooming back out, what does an eclipse look like from the Moon itself?


Source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this view of a May 2012 total eclipse from its perch in orbit around the Moon. Australia is visible at the bottom left of the image, and the shadow cast on Earth’s surface by the Moon is the dark area just to the right of top-center.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Miscellaneous, select, Sun, Top Posts


ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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