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Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla

From Mercury orbit, MESSENGER watches a lunar eclipse

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla

10-10-2014 10:07 CDT

Topics: pics of Earth by planetary missions, lunar eclipse, pretty pictures, MESSENGER, Earth, the Moon, animation

I don't believe I've ever seen anything like this before. We've watched our Moon pass into Earth's shadow from Earth's surface, Earth orbit, and lunar orbit, but from Mercury orbit? Just watch as our enormous moon -- a quarter the diameter of the planet -- just winks out as it passes into Earth's long shadow.

MESSENGER views the October 8, 2014 lunar eclipse


MESSENGER views the October 8, 2014 lunar eclipse
From orbit at Mercury, MESSENGER captured 31 photos of Earth and the Moon between 9:18 and 10:18 UTC. As MESSENGER watched, the Moon crossed into Earth's shadow, in a lunar eclipse that was witnessed by much of North America and the Pacific Ocean.

A little more information about the observation, from the MESSENGER website:

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 [planetary scientist Hari] 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.

One of the best things about missions that have survived long past their initial warranty is that mission managers have the freedom to try creative and challenging observations with their spacecraft. Thank you, MESSENGER team, for this surprising home movie!

Only about five months remain in the MESSENGER mission before the spacecraft runs out of fuel and crashes into the planet. Its orbit is now extremely low at periapsis and evolves lower over time, so depends on occasional reboosts to keep it at altitude. The most recent orbit boost happened on September 24. Two more are planned, for October 24 and January 21.

See other posts from October 2014


Or read more blog entries about: pics of Earth by planetary missions, lunar eclipse, pretty pictures, MESSENGER, Earth, the Moon, animation


Bob Ware: 10/10/2014 12:33 CDT

Thank you to the MESSENGER Team for a special view well done! Also thanks fir the great mission overall and I'm sure the closing days will be equally great though somewhat sad. IO also hope to be able to buy some great Mercury science books by you all at some point on your discoveries science. This stuff you scientists do at any planet is phenomenal!

Capt. Photon: 10/14/2014 08:05 CDT

Why was only the darkening of the Moon recorded? It would have been awesome to see the Moon "reappear" after.

Emily Lakdawalla: 10/14/2014 11:25 CDT

Time spent staring at Earth and the Moon is time spent away from its science mission; also, MESSENGER has very tight constraints on where it can point because of the necessity to keep its sunshade pointed at the Sun and sensitive parts of the spacecraft pointed away from hot Mercury's surface. One hour is actually pretty long to have spent on an observation of limited science (but lots of public outreach) value.

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