May 16 Lunar Eclipse: What Would an Astronaut See from the Moon?

May 12, 2022

Our moon during a lunar eclipse

Credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio.

A lunar eclipse is one of the easiest astronomical phenomena to observe without the aid of a telescope or binoculars. Lunar eclipses are also relatively common, occurring about twice a year. In 2022, the first eclipse will occur on the night of May 15–16 and the second will occur on November 7–8.

When a lunar eclipse occurs, the Moon is moving through the Earth's shadow. If there are clear skies in your area, you can watch the lunar surface darken, then slowly turn a bright red color over the course of a couple of hours. While watching the eclipse, you might ask yourself what it might look like if you (or your favorite astronaut!) were on the surface of the Moon instead of on Earth.

Diagram of a lunar eclipse

Credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio.

Watch the May 15–16, 2022, Total Lunar Eclipse movie.

View from the Nearside of the Moon

An astronaut looking up from the nearside of the Moon would observe a solar eclipse, not a lunar eclipse. From their viewpoint, Earth is passing in front of the Sun, obscuring the Sun from view.

An artist's rendition of a view of the earth from the moon during a lunar eclipse

Credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio.

During the eclipse, an astronaut would see the dark nightside of Earth slide in front of the Sun until it was completely rimmed with light. This spectacular ring of light was seen by Japan's Kaguya spacecraft when it was in orbit around the Moon during an eclipse on February 10, 2009.

While the ring of light dominates the astronaut's view of the sky, the lunar surface underfoot and on the surrounding mountain peaks would be bathed in red light. This red coloring is due to Earth's atmosphere acting as a lens, bending the Sun's light, and scattering blue light while allowing red light to pass through and eventually reach the lunar surface. Note: The visualization below was created for the April 2014 lunar eclipse but the visual would be the same for the May 16 eclipse. Also, note that the video is only 33 seconds long so color and brightness changes on the Moon's surface occur quicker than they would in reality.

Watch the Lunar Eclipse of April 15, 2014 movie.

Because Earth is blocking the Sun and most of its light from view, temperatures would begin to fall. During the June 15, 2011, total lunar eclipse, the Diviner instrument onboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter observed the temperature of the lunar surface drop more than 100°. An astronaut's spacesuit can accommodate the change in temperature, but their visibility would be affected. Low light levels might make it more difficult (but not impossible) to see and might affect depth perception.

View from the Farside of the Moon

Astronauts are now training for NASA's Artemis program, which will land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon. Currently, the lunar south pole is the intended destination for the first Artemis mission to land astronauts on the surface. However, future crewed missions may explore locations on the lunar farside, a terrain shaped by immense impact craters and mountain peaks. It is one of the best locations in the solar system for determining the answers to fundamentally important questions about planetary origins and evolution. It is also one of the key locations suitable for developing a productive and sustainable presence in space. One of the most interesting locations on the Moon's farside is the Schrödinger impact basin, located within the immense South Pole-Aitken basin. Exploring Schrödinger basin would address the two highest science priorities and more than half of the scientific objectives outlined by the National Research Council report The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon.

What would an astronaut exploring the farside of the Moon experience during a lunar eclipse? In short, nothing. Lunar eclipses occur when Earth is positioned between the Moon and the Sun. Because the farside of the Moon faces away from Earth, an explorer on the lunar farside would not see the Sun disappear or the lunar surface reddened, nor would they feel temperatures fall. Indeed, they would be completely unaware that an eclipse had even occurred. They would, however, be dealing with low light levels because they would be in the midst of a 14-day long period of darkness — the lunar night — while the nearside was experiencing the eclipse.

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