Science and Exploration

MESSENGER’s View of Lunar Eclipse

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
October 13, 2014
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MESSENGER’s View of Lunar Eclipse
Earth Moon System

As millions of people observed the total lunar eclipse on October 8, MESSENGER was also watching.
From its orbit about Mercury, the probe’s camera captured several images of the Moon as it passed behind Earth and into the planet’s shadow. From those images, the team created this movie, released today.

The animation was constructed from 31 images taken two minutes apart, from 5:18 a.m. to 6:18 a.m., EDT. The images start just before the Moon entered the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow (the umbra).

“From Mercury, the Earth and Moon normally appear as if they were two very bright stars,” noted Hari Nair, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, in Laurel, Md. “During a lunar eclipse, the Moon seems to disappear during its passage through the Earth’s shadow, as shown in the movie.”

MESSENGER was 107 million kilometers (66 million miles) from the Earth at the time of the lunar eclipse. The Earth is about five pixels across, and the Moon is just over one pixel across in the field of view of the spacecraft’s narrow-angle camera, with about 40 pixels distance between them. According to Nair, the images are zoomed by a factor of two, and the Moon’s brightness has been increased by a factor of about 25 to show its disappearance more clearly.

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