ESA satellites set to view Friday's solar eclipse

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Proba-2's view of the Australian eclipse in 2014 as taken by the probe's SWAP instrument (Image: ESA)

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The ESA is preparing a number of its orbital assets to observe Friday morning's solar eclipse, when the Moon will pass in front of the Sun's disk, blocking the light from our parent star in spectacular fashion. The event will be viewable to most of Europe, however the degree to which the Moon will obscure the Sun will vary depending on location. Viewers in parts of Norway will experience a total eclipse, while those watching from Rome will only see 56 percent of our star's surface covered.

Regardless, the eclipse will undoubtedly be a spectacular sight, and will serve as a stark reminder of the beauty and intricacy of our solar system. The Sun is roughly 400 times larger than the Moon, but by an incredible coincidence the Moon happens to be around 400 times closer, making both celestial objects appear roughly the same size in our sky, and setting the stage for the rare and stunning event set to unfold on Friday morning.

Proba-2 will be among the satellites tasked with capturing images as the eclipse unfolds. The spacecraft takes the form of a small box-like technology demonstration satellite. It is equipped with a number of experiments that allow the probe to image the Sun's corona in the ultraviolet spectrum and take readings of the space weather, or plasma present in Earth's magnetosphere. Proba-2 will observe the eclipse from its orbit some 820 km (510 miles) above the Earth's surface, during which time it will experience two periods of near-total solar eclipse.

Artist's impression of Proba-2 in orbit (Image: ESA, P. Carril)

Simultaneously, two other members of the minisatellite family will be busy capturing images of the Moon's shadow as it sweeps across the face of our planet. Proba-1 will make use of its high-resolution multispectral imager to capture the shadow as it darkens the ground directly under its orbital path, while Proba-V will use its vegetation camera to observe what it can of the zone of totality – the narrow path in which the light from the Sun is completely blocked by the Moon.

Those hoping to view the eclipse firsthand on Friday morning are urged to take the proper precautions. Under no circumstances is the eclipse to be viewed through ordinary sunglasses, nor through a pair of binoculars or a telescope without a professional solar filter. Unprotected viewing can lead to permanent loss of sight.

Friday's eclipse comes on the heels of a period of heightened solar activity, with NASA documenting an enormous X-class solar flare, a time lapse video of which covering 2.5 hours can be seen below.

Source: ESA

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