Astronaut witnessed a solar eclipse from space. It was ‘unnatural.’
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Astronaut witnessed a solar eclipse from space. It was ‘unnatural.’


Terry Virts peered down from the International Space Station in March 2015. The NASA astronaut saw a massive, unusual shadow cast upon Earth.

“It was this big, dark thing that wasn’t natural,” Virts, a retired astronaut and former International Space Station commander, told Mashable.

He watched a shadow created by the cosmic dance of the moon, Earth, and sun — specifically the moon traveling between our planet and the sun. It was a total solar eclipse, an event that’s technically natural, though a spectacle so rare and eerie that it certainly doesn’t feel so — either on Earth or in space.

Looking out of space station windows, Virts took in the great shadow with another astronaut. It traversed the north Atlantic Ocean. Fortunately, astronomers can predict eclipses — based on the mechanics and gravities of the sun, moon, and Earth — hundreds of years into the future, so these events aren’t a surprise. If so, that would have made for some truly unsettling observations from space.

“You’d be like, ‘What is happening on Earth?’” Virts said.

Here’s what the eclipse shadow looks like from some 250 miles up in the space station. It’s a rare sight for a small group of people: There are typically around seven astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the orbiting habitat at once.

The 2017 total solar eclipse as viewed from the space station.

The 2017 total solar eclipse as viewed from the space station.
Credit: NASA

The moon casting a shadow across southern Turkey, northern Cyprus, and the Mediterranean Sea in March 2006.

The moon casting a shadow across southern Turkey, northern Cyprus, and the Mediterranean Sea in March 2006.
Credit: NASA

For Earthlings in the center of that shadow, or what’s called the “path of totality,” the event is striking. “In my experience you can’t overhype it,” Richard Fienberg, an astronomer and senior advisor at the American Astronomical Society, told Mashable earlier this year. The moon, by temporarily blocking the sun’s blinding surface for some three to over four minutes (depending where you are), reveals our star’s ghostly atmosphere, or corona. In the moon’s shadow, the temperature drops, and light fades to deep twilight. Animals start acting strange.

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“It was this big, dark thing that wasn’t natural.”

On April 8, 2024, the path of totality is about 115 miles wide. Virts emphasizes that you must be in this path to experience a total solar eclipse. Outside that path, you’ll witness a partial eclipse. A partial eclipse is interesting, but simply pales compared to totality.

“On a scale of one to ten, a partial eclipse is a seven,” said Virts, who experienced his first total eclipse from Earth in 2017. “And a total eclipse is a million.”

Terry Virts on a spacewalk in 2015.

Terry Virts on a spacewalk in 2015.
Credit: NASA

Following his days as commander of the space station, Virts continues his passion for space as an aerospace consultant, author, podcast host, and beyond. To promote the looming total solar eclipse, the ex-astronaut has partnered with Sonic Drive-In — yes, the burger stop — a place he says has some 400 locations in the path of totality. (This eclipse passes over some major metropolitan areas, including Indianapolis, Dayton, Dallas, and Cleveland.) If you still need safe eclipse-viewing glasses, Virts said you can get a free pair with Sonic’s Blackout Slush Float.

“If it is possible, make the effort and go see this thing,” the former astronaut said. After all, the U.S. won’t see another total solar eclipse until 2044.


“If it is possible, make the effort and go see this thing.”

(Importantly, the only time you can look at the sun without approved eclipse viewers is during a few minutes or so of totality; all other times you must wear eye protection.)

From the space station, the view of the moon’s shadow was “unnatural,” Virts underscored, but there were no clear, accessible views of the actual eclipsed sun. Yet weather-permitting, you and millions of others will have the rare chance to witness a view of our blackened star on April 8. It’s not just a view — the total solar eclipse is an experience. You’ll even get to see some radiant planets.

“It blew me away,” said Virts. “It’s an amazing, amazing experience.”





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