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The moon photobombs a sunset in this otherworldly solar eclipse image

A collage of 21 images shows the eclipsed sun setting over the Atacama Desert in Chile on April 30, 2022. (Image credit: P. Horálek/ESO)

On April 30, skywatchers gathered to watch the sunset over Atacama Desert, Chile — and to witness a much rarer phenomenon. 

Before the sun passed below the horizon, the moon intercepted Earth's view, temporarily blocking a small portion of the sun's circle in the first partial solar eclipse of 2022. That phenomenon is on display in a fascinating collage, released (opens in new tab) by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) on May 9. the image combines a series of photographs from the evening of the solar eclipse to produce a record of the moon's path in front of the descending sun. 

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon crosses in front of the sun as viewed from Earth. Eclipses can be either total or partial; while total eclipses involve the moon temporarily blocking the entire disk of the sun, in the April eclipse the moon only covered a fraction of the sun, making it appear as if a "bite" of the sun had disappeared. 

Related: The 1st solar eclipse of 2022 is stunning in these satellite views

The most drastic view of April's eclipse took place off the southern tip of South America, where the moon blocked 64% of the sun's disk, according to NASA (opens in new tab).

The 21 shots that make up the newly released collage were captured within a 54-minute window. About midway through that period, the outline of the moon emerges and begins to obscure the last light of the day. 

The desert landscape, a region called Valle de la Luna (meaning Moon Valley in Spanish), combined with the ashen low-lit sky, makes for an otherworldly setting. The natural dusty effect surrounding the sun is a result of the Dec. 2021, eruption of the Hunga Tonga volcano in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The event shot out ash and other material, some of which remains trapped high in the Earth's atmosphere

According to the ESO statement, many of the skywatchers who caught the eerie sunset didn't realize what was in store for them. 

The eclipse could be seen from Antarctica, the southernmost regions of South America and from the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. However, many who live out of sight viewed the event live online from all around the world. 

The next solar eclipse of 2022 will be the last of the year. On Oct. 25, another partial eclipse will take place, which will be visible from Europe, western Asia and northeast Africa. 

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Ailsa is a staff writer for How It Works magazine, where she writes science, technology, space, history and environment features. Based in the U.K., she graduated from the University of Stirling with a BA (Hons) journalism degree. Previously, Ailsa has written for Cardiff Times magazine, Psychology Now and numerous science bookazines.