The Moon blocked part of the sun July 1 in a partial solar eclipse caught on camera by a European satellite but largely invisible to everyone on Earth.
The solar eclipse peaked at about 4:40 a.m. EDT, but it was only visible from an extremely remote — and uninhabited — patch of the southern Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Antarctica, south of Africa. NASA classified the stealthy eclipse as the “eclipse that nobody sees,” but the European Space Agency’s Proba-2 satellite orbiting Earth managed to observe the event using a telescope called Swap.
The Proba-2 photos show the sun with a small, dark bite missing at the point where the Moon blocked the star’s light. The solar eclipse lasted about 90 minutes, with the Moon blocking only about 9.7 percent of the sun’s surface at the event’s peak.
Proba-2’s Swap telescope snapped views of the eclipse in the extreme-ultraviolet range of the light spectrum and managed to perform multiple observation passes as it orbited the Earth, mission scientists said.
“SWAP observes the solar eclipse in two subsequent orbits of Proba-2,” scientists wrote on the satellite mission’s website.
ESA’s Proba-2 satellite has a dual mission to study the sun and test new spacecraft technologies. It carries two sun-watching instruments, two space weather monitors and 17 technology demonstration experiments.
Solar eclipses occur when the Moon is in its new phase and at a point in its orbit that is between the Earth and the sun. When the Moon aligns perfectly with the sun, as viewed from Earth, a total solar eclipse occurs, while at other times the sun is only partly obscured.
The July 1 partial solar eclipse marked the third in a rare series of sun and Moon eclipses within a one-month period and also kicked off a new cycle of eclipse events, which astronomers call Saros cycle 156.
The event followed a spectacular June 1 partial solar eclipse, which was visible over the northern polar regions of Europe and Asia, as well as the total lunar eclipse of June 15 that was observed by skywatchers across the eastern hemisphere.
The next eclipse of 2011 will also be a partial solar eclipse and will occur Nov. 25. That event will be visible from southern South Africa, Antarctica and New Zealand.
A Dec. 10 total lunar eclipse, which should be visible from eastern Asia, Australia and northwestern North America, will round out the 2011 sun and Moon eclipse events.