The moon’s mountains were ‘backlit by solar fire’ at the peak.
A sungazing spacecraft captured the moon passing in front of the face of the sun Wednesday (June 29).
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory(opens in new tab) caught the solar eclipse(opens in new tab) in action from its unique vantage point in space, the only spot where this eclipse was visible.
“At the peak of the eclipse, the moon covered 67% of the sun, and lunar mountains were backlit by solar fire,” wrote SpaceWeather.com(opens in new tab) Wednesday morning EDT. (NASA had not yet commented about the event.)
SDO usually looks at the sun as the source of space weather(opens in new tab), or radiation in space that affects the Earth. Aspects it studies include the sun’s magnetic field, sunspots and other aspects that influence activity during the regular 11-year solar cycle(opens in new tab).
“SDO studies how solar activity is created and drives space weather. The spacecraft’s measurements of the sun’s interior, atmosphere, magnetic field, and energy output all work to help us understand the star we live with,” NASA wrote(opens in new tab) of the mission.
SDO launched in February 2010 and forms part of a network of solar spacecraft from NASA and its partner agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The sun has been quite active lately(opens in new tab) and unusually early in its cycle, which should reach the peak around 2025.
Scientists are interested in following the origin story of solar flares and accompanying coronal mass ejections of charged particles, which can create colorful auroras in Earth’s atmosphere if the CMEs are aimed at our planet. Usually CMEs are harmless, but strong bursts may disrupt satellites, power lines and other infrastructure, which is why scientists are so keen on good predictions.
Notably, NASA has sent a close-up sungazing mission called Parker Solar Probe(opens in new tab) to investigate the corona or superheated outer region of the sun, as other satellites watch from further away to gain context.