Residents of Indonesia and other Pacific Islands were treated to a total eclipse on Wednesday morning (8:38 p.m. in New York). And while the rest of the planet wasn’t lucky enough to get a direct view of the moon blocking out the light, luckily for all of us, NASA was there to livestream the whole thing.
Solar eclipses aren’t just phenomena of rare wonder and beauty — they’re also important to science. Physicists who study the atmosphere of the sun wait eagerly for eclipses, since they block out the brightest parts of the celestial body and allow for a closer inspection of the corona — the lower part of the sun’s atmosphere. The eclipse allows scientists to see the solar surface more closely than any time before.
“The sun’s atmosphere is where the interesting physics is,” says Nelson Reginald, one of the NASA scientists who traveled to Indonesia to witness the eclipse, in a release.
Wednesday’s eclipse lasted a mere four minutes, but this was enough for researchers to capture the corona using a special, polarized camera. The images will give information about wind speeds and electron activity on the surface of the sun. This week’s event was the first test for the instrument, which was rebuilt over the past year to provide faster, better data.
Not to be outdone, the European Space Agency also caught some pretty cool footage of the eclipse with its Proba-2 satellite. The satellite is specifically designed to study the sun and to orbit Earth along the terminator — the line that separates day from night. Although the mini-satellite did not catch a total eclipse, it did pass through the moon’s shadow several times, thanks to its 90-minute orbit.
American skywatchers should mark their calendars for August 21, 2017, when the total eclipse will be visible from Oregon to South Carolina. All of North America will witness at least a partial eclipse on that day. And yes, there’s a Twitter account for it: Follow @nationaleclipse all the way through next summer.