It seems almost unbelievable, but the Earth is now eclipsing the Sun each morning as seen from a NASA spacecraft—and virtually nobody is watching.
Unlike the incredible attention total solar eclipses get (when the Moon blocks out the Sun to allow a glimpse of the Sun’s corona), this blocking of the Sun by the Earth is being seen only by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).
Here’s everything you need to know about these “secret eclipses” that have not been publicized—and how to see them each morning through mid-August.
Where to download the SDO’s ‘secret’ eclipse images
All you need to do is visit this NASA webpage and select a date, then a filter, and download a file of every image taken that day by the SDO. The eclipses began on July 25, 2022 and will continue for three weeks. They begin around 07:00 UT, so scan through the folder of images on your desktop until you get to that time—and you’ll see three of four shots of a partially eclipsed Sun (as well as a few completely black images of a total solar eclipse!).
On the partial eclipse images you can see the curvature of Earth’s shadow.
What is an eclipse of the Sun by the Earth?
It’s something that can only be witnessed from space—and is, at some point, always witnessed by any spacecraft orbiting Earth. It would also be possible to see an eclipse of the Sun by the Earth from the Moon if you stood on the lunar surface during what would, on Earth, look like a lunar eclipse.
The Apollo astronauts of the 1960s and 1970s also reported seeing Earth eclipse the Sun while on the way back from the Moon.
The last total lunar eclipse was on May 15/16. 2022—and it looked absolutely spectacular. The next total lunar eclipse will take place on November 8, 2022 with totality lasting a whopping 84 minutes.
What is an ‘eclipse season’?
Every 173 days, for between 31 and 37 days, the Moon is lined-up perfectly to intersect the ecliptic—the apparent path of the Sun through our daytime sky and the plane of Earth’s orbit of the Sun. The result is a short season during which two—and occasionally three—solar and lunar eclipses can occur.
However, that only works for eclipses of the Sun by the Moon as seen from Earth.
The SDO is in a geosynchronous orbit of our planet at an altitude of 22,238 miles/ 35,789 kilometers and experiences a different kind of eclipse season. Lasting three weeks twice per year—in July/August and in January/February —it happens because it has a slightly different point of view than we do on the planet’s surface.
For the same reason the SDO also sometimes sees eclipses of the Sun by the Moon.
What is NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory?
It’s an orbiting spacecraft that studies the Sun. Since it launched in 2020 it’s witnessed an entire solar cycle—reckoned to last about 11 years—and it’s seen multiple eclipses of the Sun by the Moon and by the Earth. It’s also seen planets and comets transit the Sun.
The SDO takes one image of the Sun every 0.75 seconds through various filters and at various wavelengths—and some of those images have this week captured the Sun being eclipsed by the Earth.
When is the next eclipse visible from Earth?
The next total solar eclipse is on April 20, 2023 and will see tiny Exmouth Peninsula in Western Australia, as well as Timor Leste and West Papua, go under the shadow of the Moon for about a minute.
When is the next total solar eclipse in North America?
America is in a golden age of solar eclipses. After a spectacular total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017 another will occur less than seven years later on April 8, 2024. The Moon will block the Sun for up to a whopping 4 minutes 28 seconds, depending on where you stand. A 100-120 miles-wide path of totality will cross 13 U.S. states as well as swathes of northern Mexico and southeast Canada.
Disclaimer: I am the editor of WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.