A total lunar eclipse is an incredible sight. As Earth passes between the Moon and the Sun, its shadow slips across the face of our satellite, so only the long, red wavelengths — sunlight refracted by Earth’s atmosphere — typically fade into the pale Moon blood-red. could.
That’s when we see it from here, on our planet. But from space, the view is very different – and we can now see what it looks like, thanks to Lucy, an asteroid probe led by the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), launched in October 2021.
At the time of the recent total lunar eclipse, which was visible over most of the Americas on the night of May 16, Lucy was at a distance of about 100 million kilometers (65 million miles) from Earth.
“Although total lunar eclipses aren’t so rare — they happen every year or so — it’s not often that you get a chance to see them from a completely new angle,” said Hal Levison, planetary scientist at SwRI.
“When the team realized that Lucy had the chance to observe this lunar eclipse as part of the instrument calibration process, everyone was incredibly excited.”
Over the course of about three hours, the spacecraft took 86 1-millisecond exposures using its high-resolution, black-and-white L’LORRI instrument, which was sent back home to Earth to be stitched together in the timing of the first half. had gone. Why eclipse?
In the resulting video, Earth and its satellite can be seen in the distance, separated from each other by a distance of about 360,000 kilometers (224,000 mi), both illuminated by the Sun, off-screen to the left. The Moon is much dimmer than the Sun, so scientists brightened it up to make it visible. As the video progresses, the Moon fades out completely, being swallowed up by Earth’s shadow.
It’s a stunning demonstration of the mechanics of a total lunar eclipse, as well as the capabilities of the L’LORRI camera, which will take images of the Trojan asteroids that share Jupiter’s orbit at great distances from the Sun.
Since the instrument is designed to operate in a cold thermal environment, the task of obtaining the timelapse had to be done very carefully – so only half the eclipse was imaged to avoid overheating.
“Capturing these images was a truly amazing team effort,” said John Spencer, planetary scientist at SwRI.
“The instrumentation, guidance, navigation and science operations teams had to work together to collect these data, getting the Earth and Moon in the same frame.”
The results are not useful for calibration purposes only. They give us Earthlings a spectacularly different view of our home world and satellite, during one of the most spectacular displays the Moon gives us. And it’s breathtaking.