Last month I had the privilege of watching the North American total solar eclipse with some current and former Planet employees from my family’s home in Payette Idaho; which happened to be right in the path of totality.
While Planeteers all over the country were looking up, one of our Dove cubesats was coming into position for a much rarer view.
“Don’t look directly into the sun” isn’t just sage advice for humans, it applies to spacecraft as well. Photographing the eclipse itself directly from space is not safe for our Doves and photographing the shadow on the ground doesn’t make for terribly interesting photos, just dark ones. To capture something special Planet’s Attitude Control team decided to take a Dove out of its normal imaging mode and have it continuously image a single spot on the ground over the course of a minute while the shadow of the eclipse passed over that spot. The goal was to capture a short animation like we did for our Soyuz rocket launch in July.
With over 100 Doves currently in space, we were able to find an intersection of a Dove and the shadow of the moon over a scenic site, Grand Teton National Park.
Seen above is a single image from the maneuver, stunning all on its own, of the Grand Tetons on the left and the shadow of the moon on the right having just passed over them. To capture this the Dove was pointing significantly off-nadir giving the image a three dimensional feel. The quality is lower than our standard imagery because the satellite was still configured for capturing daylight images, brief periods of darkness are not the usual conditions for a Dove.
The real magic happens when we animate this string of captures together. Take a look at this time-lapse:
The Moon’s shadow travels over Grand Teton National Park
While short, the animation proves fascinating. As the Dove orbited over Wyoming and Idaho, it snapped one image a second over a 100-second window. The capture window begins as with the Grand Tetons were already shrouded into darkness and shows the shadow moving off into the distance.
You won’t find off nadir imagery like this in Planet Explorer Beta as our standard imagery is captured by satellites pointing straight down; but every once in awhile, it’s fun to run these experiments and show off the more unique views that satellites up in space provide us.
The next total solar eclipse will cross the Pacific in July, 2019—and the next North American total eclipse won’t happen until April, 2024. No matter where and when it is, our satellites will snap some imagery of it, so stay tuned!