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Additional Perspectives on the 2024 Eclipse: Views from the Moon and Earth’s Orbit

Just over a week ago, millions of people gathered across North America to witness the awe-inspiring event of a total solar eclipse on April 8th, 2024. While the eclipse was a spectacular sight from the ground, it was even more magnificent when viewed from space. Earth-observing satellites such as GOES-16 captured stunning images of the moon’s shadow sweeping over our planet.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) also managed to capture a snapshot of the eclipse from the Moon. Unlike traditional Earth-based photographers, the LROC’s view was challenging to obtain due to the spacecraft’s line scanner cameras. However, in just 20 seconds, the LROC was able to capture the entire eclipse phenomenon.

NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory, located at LaGrange Point 1, provided a unique perspective of the eclipse from Earth orbit, capturing the entire event as it unfolded over the continent.

Eclipse as Experience

For many viewers, witnessing the eclipse meant traveling to various locations along the path of totality to get the best view. This path extended from the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico to the northern Canadian provinces, allowing a significant portion of the U.S. to experience totality. Fortunately, the weather cooperated in most places, allowing people to witness and share the eclipse on social media.

A composite of images taken during the total solar eclipse showing all the phases leading up to and after totality. NASA/Keegan Barber.
A composite of images taken during the total solar eclipse showing all the phases leading up to and after totality. NASA/Keegan Barber.

I was fortunate to witness the eclipse from a cruise ship off the coast of Mazatlán, Mexico, alongside a group of astronomers. Despite a few clouds, the view of the eclipsed Sun was breathtaking. As the shadow approached, the temperature dropped, and we were treated to 4 minutes and 20 seconds of totality.

A projection of the partially eclipsed Sun on the stack of a cruise ship off the coast of Mazatlan. Image credit: Carolyn Collins Petersen.
A projection of the partially eclipsed Sun on the stack of a cruise ship off the coast of Mazatlan. Image credit: Carolyn Collins Petersen.

However, some regions were only able to witness darkened clouds, while others outside the path of totality experienced a partial view. Despite this, many people utilized eclipse glasses or pinhole projection methods to observe the partial phases of the eclipse.

Eclipse from the Air

Those fortunate enough to fly during the eclipse had a unique opportunity to extend their experience by taking a jet plane along the path of totality. Flight-tracking apps recorded a surge in traffic along the eclipse’s path, with several airlines offering special flights for passengers to witness this rare event.

A pilot flying a WB-57 jet during the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.
NASA/Mallory Yates
A pilot flying a WB-57 jet during the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024. Credit: NASA/Mallory Yates

Moreover, an intrepid NASA jet pilot managed to capture a mesmerizing view of the eclipse from within the shadow. In space, astronauts aboard the International Space Station were treated to a stunning sight of the umbra and penumbra passing over the maritime provinces of Canada.

A view of the eclipse shadow from the International Space Station. Courtesy NASA.
A view of the eclipse shadow from the International Space Station. Courtesy NASA.

Future Eclipses

The unforgettable 2024 eclipse has left many yearning for more such experiences, but the next one in this region will occur in 2045. Until then, there are several upcoming total solar eclipses, lunar, and annular events. The years 2026, 2027, and 2028 will bring totalities to parts of Europe, Egypt, and Australia. Detailed information about upcoming eclipses, including safe viewing practices and live broadcasts, can be found on sites like Mr. Eclipse and NASA’s dedicated eclipse page.

For More Information

2024 Eclipse as Seen From The Moon
The April 8 Total Solar Eclipse: Through the Eyes of NASA

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Can Martian atmospheric samples provide greater insights into the Red Planet compared to surface samples?

Could Martian atmospheric samples teach us more about the Red Planet than surface samples? This is a question that has intrigued scientists and researchers for years, and a recent study presented at the 55th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference delves into this intriguing topic. The study, conducted by a team of international researchers, aimed to explore the significance of returning atmospheric samples from Mars and how they could provide valuable insights into the formation and evolution of the Red Planet.

NASA is currently focused on returning surface samples from Mars in the hopes of uncovering clues about the ancient history of the planet and the possibility of past life. However, the researchers behind this study argue that atmospheric samples could offer a unique perspective on Mars’ history that surface samples may not be able to provide. To shed light on this fascinating subject, lead author Dr. Edward Young, a professor at UCLA, and co-author Dr. Timothy Swindle, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Arizona, shared their insights with Universe Today.

Dr. Young explains, “We learn a lot about the origin of a planet from its atmosphere as well as its rocks. In particular, isotope ratios of certain elements can constrain the processes leading to the formation of the planet.” This highlights the importance of studying both atmospheric and surface samples to gain a comprehensive understanding of Mars’ geological and evolutionary history.

One of the key motivations behind obtaining atmospheric samples from Mars is to complement the data collected from surface samples. Dr. Swindle elaborates on this, stating, “We need an atmospheric sample to know what the rocks might have been exchanging elements and isotopes with. But we’d also like to have a sample of the Martian atmosphere to answer some basic questions about processes that have occurred, or are occurring, on Mars.” This dual approach could provide scientists with a more holistic view of the complex processes that have shaped the Red Planet over billions of years.

The study outlines several potential benefits of obtaining atmospheric samples, including gaining insights into the Martian interior, evolutionary trends in atmospheric compositions, nitrogen cycling, and sources of methane on Mars. The recent incident with the NASA Perseverance rover, where it inadvertently collected atmospheric gases instead of a rock core sample, underscores the importance of studying atmospheric samples alongside surface samples.

While the idea of returning atmospheric samples from Mars is still in the development stage, the researchers discuss potential methods for collecting these samples. Dr. Swindle mentions two proposed approaches, including flying a spacecraft through the Martian atmosphere to collect samples or using a sample return cannister on the surface of Mars equipped with an air compressor. Although there are currently no concrete plans for dedicated atmospheric sample missions, initiatives like the Sample Collection for Investigation of Mars (SCIM) have previously been proposed.

Looking ahead, the researchers emphasize the value of atmospheric samples in unraveling the mysteries of Mars’ past, including its potential for supporting life. Despite Mars’ current harsh conditions, evidence from past missions suggests a more hospitable environment billions of years ago, with flowing water and active volcanism. The quest to uncover whether ancient life existed on Mars remains a tantalizing prospect, and atmospheric samples could hold vital clues.

In conclusion, the study presents a compelling case for the importance of Martian atmospheric samples in advancing our understanding of the Red Planet’s history and evolution. As Dr. Young aptly puts it, “Only time will tell, and this is why we science!” The ongoing pursuit of scientific exploration and discovery continues to fuel our curiosity about Mars and the broader cosmos, inspiring us to keep looking up and delving deeper into the mysteries of the universe.

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