NASA's powerful Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) may seem to have a boring job: staring at the sun as a space weather sentinel. But every now and then, the observatory gets a lunar surprise to break up the routine.
That's what happened Thursday (May 25), when the moon passed between SDO and the sun in a brief — but awesome — partial solar eclipse in space. The lunar crossing, or transit, lasted nearly an hour, with the moon covering about 89 percent of the sun at the eclipse's peak.
On Friday (May 26), NASA released an animation of the partial solar eclipse as seen in SDO images. The eclipse began Thursday at 2:24 p.m. EDT (1824 GMT) and ended at 3:17 p.m. EDT (1917 GMT).
"While the moon's edge appears smooth in these images, it's actually quite uneven," NASA officials wrote in an image description. "The surface of the moon is rugged, sprinkled with craters, valleys and mountains. Peer closely at the image, and you may notice the subtle, bumpy outline of these topographical features."
SDO's partial solar eclipse view is a teaser of sorts for a grand event coming later this summer. The moon will completely block the sun in a total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 that will be visible from a narrow, 70-mile-wide (113 kilometers) strip of land across 19 states in the United States, stretching from northwest to southeast from Oregon to South Carolina. Observers elsewhere in North America, South America, Africa, Europe and Asia will see a partial solar eclipse, NASA officials said, adding that SDO will also see a partial eclipse.
NASA's SDO spacecraft is one of a fleet of sun-watching observatories monitoring the sun's solar activity.