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Satellite Sees Double When Snapping Solar Eclipse Pictures from Space

A new image of a solar eclipse will have you seeing double. Views from the sun-watching Proba-2 satellite show the moon passing in front of the sun in two pictures snapped during a partial solar eclipse on Saturday (Aug. 11). The satellite flew through the moon's shadow twice during the eclipse.

Solar eclipses happen when the moon moves between Earth and the sun, from the Earth's perspective. A happy cosmic coincidence means the moon is just about the same apparent size in the sky as our sun, so sometimes the moon can block the sun completely. Like last year, when atotal solar eclipse passed across the continental U.S.

This time around, the eclipse was a partial one, and a different region of the world got to witness it. The eclipse path included most of Asia, far northern Europe, Iceland, Greenland and a bit of northern and eastern Canada. The event was the third and final solar eclipse for 2018, and astrophotographers captured photos all along the eclipse's path.

Two images from the European Space Agency's Proba-2 satellite show the moon partially covering the sun during a solar eclipse on Aug. 11. The satellite orbits Earth about 14.5 times per day and flew in and out of the moon's shadow twice during the eclipse. (Image credit: ESA/Royal Observatory of Belgium)

While the eclipse wowed observers on the ground, Proba-2 got to witness the event from space. The European Space Agency satellite orbits Earth a little more than 14 times per day, and its viewing angle changes with each orbit. So the satellite flew in and out of the moon's shadow twice while the eclipse was happening. 

The images were captured at 4:40 a.m. EDT (0840 GMT) and 6:32 a.m. EDT (1032 GMT) using the satellite's camera, which is called SWAP (Sun Watcher Using Active Pixel System Detector and Image Processing). The camera observes the corona — the tenuous and ultra-hot outer atmosphere of the sun — in extreme ultraviolet wavelengths.

Coincidentally, NASA sent a spacecraft to the sun that same weekend. The Parker Solar Probe launched successfully on Sunday (Aug. 12) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Parker is designed to fly closer to the sun than ever before, at a minimum distance of 4 million miles (about 6.5 million kilometers). That's nine times closer than planet Mercury's orbit around the sun.

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is pursuing a Ph.D. part-time in aerospace sciences (University of North Dakota) after completing an M.Sc. (space studies) at the same institution. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @HowellSpace.