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NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory Captures Rare Double Eclipse Of Sun By Moon And Earth

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A NASA observatory that has been observing the sun since 2010 witnessed and captured a rare double eclipse that occurred this week when planet Earth and the moon crossed in front of the sun.

Early in the morning on Sept. 1, the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) caught the Earth and the moon as they traveled across the sun.

During the rare event, the Earth completely eclipsed the sun from the view of SDO just as the moon started to cross the face of the star.

"It starts with the Earth between SDO and the Sun," the SDO blog explained. "As the Earth moves out of the way, you can see the disk of the Moon covering part of the Sun."

The observatory was able to capture the final stages of the eclipse of the moon just as the Earth eclipse ends.

Both the Earth and the moon blocked SDO's view of the sun during the eclipse but scientists were able to distinguish the Earth from the moon based on their edges. The Earth's edges are fuzzy because the planet's atmosphere absorbs some of the sunlight. The moon's edges, on the other hand, are sharp and distinct because Earth's natural satellite has no atmosphere.

NASA said that the eclipse was also seen from southern Africa.

Also known as annular or ring of fire eclipse, the phenomenon is similar to a total solar eclipse except that it occurred when the moon is at a point in orbit that is farther from Earth than normal. This greater distance made the moon look smaller, so it did not entirely cover the face of the sun. What it did was leave a bright and narrow ring of the sun's surface visible, which made the sun appear like a ring of fire.

Launched on Feb. 11, 2010, the SDO mission, a part of NASA's Living With a Star (LWS) program, aims to understand the causes of solar variability and how this affects the Earth. The observatory was designed to shed light on the sun's influence on our planet and near-Earth space by studying solar atmosphere.

SDO comes with Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), which features four telescopes designed to take 57,000 photos of the sun everyday. AIA takes eight images of the star at 10 different wavelengths every 21 seconds. On Jan. 19, 2015 just after five years of watching the sun, the SDO instrument took its millionth shot of the sun.

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