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Eclipse 2017
International Space Station Transit

September 2017 night sky

—Charlie Christmann

By now, I’m sure you have seen many images and videos of the event from all parts of the United States. In New Mexico, it depends upon where you were during the eclipse. Some observers in Albuquerque were treated with enough clear sky to see the moon partly cover the sun. In Placitas, at my home, the sky was completely obscured by heavy clouds all morning—too bad.

Dee and I tried hard to reach a spot to see the total eclipse, but alas, some unavoidable last minute cancellations of our “reservations” with relatives up north prevented our adventure into totality. We also heard that traffic on Sunday and Monday morning was atrocious; even if we had gotten away on Sunday as planned, we probably would not have made it to Kansas.

If you were lucky enough to be in the path of totality, you could have looked up to see the stars come out during the day. Venus, our bright morning star, could be seen almost directly overhead. Mars, just recently passing behind the sun, could be seen at about two-o-clock from the sun very near the edge of the corona. Mercury also recently passed behind the sun and resided at about seven-o-clock from the sun a bit further away from the corona.

The international Space Station (ISS) crew, NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson, Jack Fischer, and Randy Bresnik, Russian cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Sergey Ryazanskiy, and European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli, had a bird’s eye view of the event, not once, but three times as they passed over the U.S. Their first opportunity occurred at 10:40 a.m. MDT, when the moon’s shadow was still over the Pacific Ocean when the crew saw a maximum of 38 percent coverage on that pass.

The second chance was at 12:24 p.m. MDT with the shadow passing through Indiana and Kentucky. On this pass, they saw a maximum 44 percent coverage of the sun. The third opportunity occurred at 2:18 p.m. MDT with the shadow over the Atlantic Ocean with a maximum coverage of 84 percent. Even though the crew never saw totality in the ISS, they did take a spectacular shot of the moon’s shadow.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s GOES-16 weather satellite had a spectacular view of the eclipse from geostationary orbit. Watch the visible image movie at goo.gl/odCBpQ.

There was one other observer watching Earth during the eclipse—NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. It had a unique view of the event from lunar orbit. Normally, this spacecraft studies the moon, but its high-resolution imager was turned toward Earth at around 12:25 p.m. MDT to take a picture of the moon’s umbra covering the eastern U.S. NASA hopes to provide the image in full color, but as of the evening of August 21, the image was not yet posted. Watch the LRO website at eclipse2017.nasa.gov/moon for the image to be posted.

If you missed this total eclipse, you have only seven years to wait. The next total eclipse over the U.S. will be April 8, 2024, from Texas to Maine. A bonus of that eclipse will be a longer time of totality, lasting up to five minutes, versus two and a half for this eclipse. New Mexico will see about the same amount of the sun covered as this eclipse.

According to www.timeanddate.com, the path of totality will first touch North America at Mazatlán, Mexico, with almost four and a half minutes of darkness, and crosses into the U.S. at Piedras Negras on the Texas border with Mexico. The northwestern half of San Antonio will see a total eclipse. Austin will see two minutes of totality and Dallas will see almost four minutes of totality; Fort Worth will see two and a half minutes. The eclipse exits the mainland over New Brunswick and passes over Newfoundland. It ends before making the coast of England.

The following lists upcoming total eclipses and the areas of totality:

  • July 2, 2019—Pitcairn Islands, central Argentina and Chile, Tuamotu Archipelago
  • December 14, 2020—Southern Chile and Argentina, Kiribati, Polynesia
  • December 4, 2021—Antarctica
  • April 20, 2023—Kupang, East Timor, northwestern Papua New Guinea, southern Martial Islands.

 
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