A NASA camera in orbit around the moon looked toward Earth during the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, and took this photo. NASA

A NASA camera orbiting the moon turned its lens toward Earth during the total solar eclipse last week, capturing a photo of the black shadow that swept across the United States and blocked out the sun to viewers on the ground.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped the image at 2:25 p.m. EDT, while the shadow was passing just north of Nashville, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center reported. This area was where the totality of the solar eclipse, when the sun was completely obscured by the moon, lasted the longest. The orbiter was crossing above the moon’s south pole at the time, moving almost 3,600 mph — compared to the moon’s shadow, which was moving across the Earth at 1,500 mph.

In the photo from the LRO’s camera that the space agency released on Tuesday from the maneuver, each pixel represents a distance of about 2.5 miles.

It took 18 seconds to capture the image.

NASA had invited the public “to wave at the moon” while the picture was being taken, a symbolic gesture because the equipment, of course, is not powerful enough to see people or even tall buildings from outer space. But the camera did capture another perspective of an astronomical event on Earth that was a unique experience for many people.

The LRO launched in 2009 and, among its other functions, takes temperature readings of the lunar surface during the day and the night; images geographic details on the moon; measures the amount of ultraviolet light being reflected from the surface back into space; and sends all of that data back to scientists on Earth.

It is still going despite a 2014 collision with a meteoroid, which crashed into the orbiter while it was taking a photo.


“While the thrill of the total eclipse was in experiencing the shadow of the moon sweep across us on Earth, on the moon this was just another day,” NASA said Tuesday. “The lunar nearside was one week into its two-week night, while the sun shone on the far side in the middle of its two-week day. Because solar eclipses do not affect the health or power supply of the spacecraft, LRO operated normally during the total solar eclipse.”

This wasn’t the first time the LRO has photographed the Earth bathed in the moon’s shadow. During a total solar eclipse in 2012, the orbiter’s camera took a similar image, as the dark circle passed across Alaska and the North Pacific.

The image of last week’s eclipse from the moon was one of many perspectives NASA had of the event. Photographers from the space agency took photos from planes in the air, from the ground in places where the eclipse reached totality — rather than a simple partial eclipse — and from the International Space Station.

Beyond photos, NASA collected a lot of data from the eclipse, but is still working to analyze it all.