'Shaky' Solar Eclipse Spotted from Space (Video)

solar eclipse
(Image credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Joy Ng)

A "shaky" solar eclipse in space was captured by one of NASA's sun-gazing spacecraft. The agency's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) caught the eclipse on camera on Sunday (Oct. 30).

SDO's footage of the partial solar eclipse shows the sun appearing to have tremors, but the shivering wasn't due to worries about Halloween.

"Instead, the shaking results from slight adjustments in SDO's guidance system, which normally relies upon viewing the entire sun to center the images between exposures," NASA officials wrote in a statement.

The moon passed across the sun’s face for about an hour, between 3:56 p.m. and 4:56 p.m. EDT (1956 to 2056 GMT), during Sunday's eclipse, which was visible from SDO's vantage point in Earth orbit but not from the ground. At peak coverage, the moon obscured about 59 percent of the sun.

On Oct. 30, 2016, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, experienced a partial solar eclipse in space when it caught the moon passing in front of the sun. The lunar transit lasted one hour, between 3:56 p.m. and 4:56 p.m. EDT, with the moon covering about 59 percent of the sun at the peak of its journey across the face of the sun (Image credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Joy Ng)


"The moon's shadow obstructs SDO's otherwise constant view of the sun, and the shadow's edge is sharp and distinct, since the moon has no atmosphere which would distort sunlight," NASA officials said in the same statement.

SDO's images were taken in extreme ultraviolet light, which is invisible to human eyes. In these images, the sun is colored red.

While SDO happened to be in the right spot for Sunday's eclipse, the primary goal of the spacecraft's $800 million mission involves helping scientists learn more about the sun's variable activity. SDO's data could lead to better "space weather" predictions for Earth, NASA officials have said. 

When the sun is extremely active, huge eruptions of solar plasma known as coronal mass ejections can slam into Earth's atmosphere, spawning geomagnetic storms that can disrupt power grids, satellite navigation and other infrastructure humans depend on. These storms can also ramp up the northern and southern lights.

SDO launched in February 2010.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace