Total Solar Eclipse Darkens North America

On April 8, 2024, millions of Americans saw day turn temporarily to night as the Moon passed between the Sun and Earth to create a total solar eclipse.

As people in the 115-mile-wide (185-kilometer-wide) path of totality looked up and saw the Moon conceal the bright orb of the Sun and obscure all but its wispy corona, Earth-observing satellites captured imagery of the Moon’s shadow as it raced eastward over North America.

About 1 million miles from Earth, NASA’s EPIC (Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera) imager on the DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory) satellite, captured the above views of Earth between 16:02 and 20:32 Universal Time (12:02 and 4:32 p.m. Eastern Time). DSCVR is a joint NASA, NOAA, and U.S. Air Force satellite built to observe our planet from Lagrange Point 1, a gravitationally stable position between the Sun and Earth.

The Moon’s shadow swept over North America, from the Pacific coast of Mexico, through Texas, and over the Great Lakes before crossing the Atlantic coast of Newfoundland, Canada.

Observers on the ground had a rare view of the Sun’s active outer atmosphere, or corona. Glowing loops of plasma called solar prominences could also be seen extending into the corona. Plasma is super-hot ionized gas which flows along the tangled and twisted structure of the Sun’s magnetic fields.

“This view of the corona will never happen again, ever,” said Michael Kirk, a research scientist in the Heliophysics Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center during a live broadcast of the eclipse from Dallas, Texas. During the broadcast, Kirk noted that the spiky and asymmetrical nature of the corona was a sign that the Sun’s magnetic field was active and approaching solar maximum.

As the Moon’s shadow moved east across North America, the NOAA-20 satellite orbited the Earth from pole to pole and captured images of Earth from east to west. The image above is a mosaic comprised of swaths of images collected by the satellite at three different times on April 8. The right third of the image shows the eastern United States at about 1:10 p.m. Eastern Time (17:10 Universal Time), before the eclipse had begun. The middle part was captured at about 1:50 p.m. Central Time (18:50 Universal Time), when the eclipse was in progress in the center of the country. Even outside of the path of totality, skies were much darker throughout the U.S. The left third of the image was collected at about 1:30 p.m. Pacific Time (20:30 Universal Time), after the Moon’s shadow had moved out over the Atlantic Ocean.

The path of totality included portions of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. The next total solar eclipse to travel across the lower 48 states from coast to coast will be in 2045.

NASA Earth Observatory images by Michala Garrison and Wanmei Liang, using data from DSCOVR EPIC and VIIRS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE, GIBS/Worldview, and the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). Story by Emily Cassidy.

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