The May 20 annular eclipse may have been an awesome sight for skywatchers across many parts of the Earth, but it was also being viewed by a robotic explorer around the Moon!
During the event NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter turned its camera to look back home, acquiring several images of the Earth with the Moon’s fuzzy shadow cast onto different regions during the course of the eclipse. The image above is a 4-panel zoom into one particular NAC image showing the Moon’s shadow over the Aleutian Islands.
LRO captured a total of four narrow-angle camera (NAC) images during two of its orbits. During one orbit the Moon’s shadow was over the southern part of Japan, and during the next it had moved northeast to cover the island chain of Alaska.
According to the LROC site run by Arizona State University:
The NAC is a line scanner, meaning that it has only one row of 5064 pixels per camera. Instead of snapping a single frame, an image is built up by the motion of the spacecraft in orbit about the Moon (about 1600 meters per second). To obtain an image of the Earth the spacecraft is turned 180° to face the Earth, then the spacecraft is pitched as quickly as possible (one-tenth of a degree per second), so that the image is built up line by line.
This also explains why some of the images are “clipped” on the edges… LRO ran out of time during its lunar orbit. Still, it’s great to be able to show some photos of the eclipse from quite possibly the most distant viewer anywhere!