What is a solar eclipse?
On Earth, a total solar eclipse means that for just a few minutes, the sky goes dark. But what does a total solar eclipse look like from space?
What Exactly is a Solar Eclipse?
A solar eclipse happens when, at just the right moment, the moon comes between the sun and Earth. When the moon only blocks out part of the sun’s light, it’s called a partial solar eclipse. Sometimes, the moon blocks all of the sun’s light. This is called a total solar eclipse.
Seeing the Moon’s Shadow
As the moon passes in front of the sun’s light, it casts a shadow on part of the Earth—and Earth-observing satellites can see this shadow. Watch the short video clip below to see a satellite’s view of the moon’s shadow on Earth during a solar eclipse.
As you can see in the video above, the moon’s shadow moves as the Earth rotates. The shadow traces a path across the Earth. This path is called the path of totality. If you want to experience total darkness during an eclipse, you have to be right in this path of the moon’s shadow.
Never look directly at the sun! It can damage your eyesight!
To view a solar eclipse safely, you must use special solar viewing glasses. For safety tips, such as what kind of glasses to buy, visit the NASA Eclipse 2017 Safety Page: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety
Watching the Moon Pass in Front of the Sun
Total solar eclipses also provide a rare chance to see the sun’s atmosphere, called the corona. The corona is very dim, and it’s usually hard to see because the sun is so much brighter. However, during those few minutes of a total solar eclipse, all you can see is the light from the corona!
Some satellites that observe the sun can also get a special glimpse during a total solar eclipse. They can actually watch the sun as the moon passes over it. Watch the short video clip below to see a satellite’s view of the moon eclipsing the sun.
GOES-16 Watches Earth and the Sun
On August 21, 2017 all of North America was at least partially in the path of a solar eclipse. And, anyone lucky enough to be in the path of totality—which stretched from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina—at that time was able to see a total solar eclipse.
The GOES-16 weather satellite was watching that day, too! GOES-16 has an instrument that allowed it to capture views of Earth during this solar eclipse.
The Advanced Baseline Imager, or ABI, keeps an eye on Earth. On an ordinary day, it helps scientists spot severe weather on Earth and other hazards like forest fires. During a solar eclipse, it can watch the moon’s shadow pass over the Earth!