Spacecraft Watched the Lunar Eclipse from Mercury

MESSENGER Mission in Mercury Orbit
Artist's impression of the NASA's MESSENGER mission in Mercury orbit. (Image credit: NASA)

Last Wednesday, Earth was wowed by a lovely cosmic alignment — a lunar eclipse. For cloud-free regions of the globe, skywatchers observed our moon gradually fall into Earth's shadow, eventually transforming from a bright disk into an ominous-looking red glow. Known as a lunar eclipse, the event wasn’t only a show for Earthlings to enjoy — a certain little space robot was observing from 66 million miles away.

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NASA's MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) mission is currently in orbit around our solar system’s smallest planet and, on Oct. 6, mission controllers commanded the probe to gaze Earthward. As can be seen in the video below, our planet’s natural satellite orbited behind the Earth, falling into its shadow:

"From Mercury, the Earth and moon normally appear as if they were two very bright stars," said planetary scientist Hari Nair, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, in Laurel, Md. "During a lunar eclipse, the moon seems to disappear during its passage through the Earth's shadow, as shown in the movie."

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The video is composed of 31 MESSENGER observations of the Earth-moon system taken from 5:18 a.m. to 6:18 a.m. EDT on Oct. 8. The animation starts just before the moon slips into the darkest part of the Earth's shadow (umbra). To improve clarity in the video, mission scientists increased brightness of Earth and moon, which are only 40 pixels apart in the images attained by MESSENGER’s narrow-angle camera.

This article was provided by Discovery News.

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Media Relations Specialist, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Ian O'Neill is a media relations specialist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. Prior to joining JPL, he served as editor for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific‘s Mercury magazine and Mercury Online and contributed articles to a number of other publications, including,, Live Science,, Scientific American. Ian holds a Ph.D in solar physics and a master's degree in planetary and space physics.