Image: Photo from space of shadow of the moon created by solar eclipse
Don Pettit
This is one of a series of photos taken by Expedition 31 Flight Engineer Don Pettit aboard the International Space Station, showing a shadow of the moon created by the May 20, 2012 solar eclipse, as the shadow spreads across cloud cover on Earth. Pettit used a 28-mm lens on a digital still camera.
By SPACE.com Managing Editor
updated 5/22/2012 9:08:15 PM ET 2012-05-23T01:08:15

As millions of skywatchers gazed up at a dazzling solar eclipse on Sunday, one astronaut was amazed by looking down at the eclipse's shadow moving across the Earth.

NASA astronaut Don Pettit captured spectacular photos of the moon's shadow cast by an annular solar eclipse on Sunday. The images show a huge, black blemish on otherwise pristine white clouds over the Western Pacific Ocean.

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"It is amazing to see an eclipse from orbit," Pettit told Mission Control while describing the event Monday. "The shadow on Earth looks just like what you see in the physics books and the astronomy book where those folks figured all that out without ever having seen what that shadow looks like."

Related: Your 2012 eclipse photos — it's not too late to share

NASA posted three of Pettit's photos of the annular solar eclipse shadow to his Expedition 31 mission's gallery, and the astronaut unveiled them online in his blog "Letters to Earth." Pettit used a 28-mm lens on a digital still camera to snap the photos at about 7:36 p.m. EDT (2336 GMT) on Sunday. [See Solar Eclipse Pictures from Space & Earth]

Sunday's solar eclipse was a rare celestial sight in which the moon lined up between the Earth and sun, but did not completely block out the star. Because the moon was at apogee, its farthest point from Earth in its orbit, it was too far from Earth to completely cover the sun's disk, leaving a dazzling "ring of fire" that amazed millions of skywatchers in the eclipse's path between southern China and Texas.

PhotoBlog: Sun, moon and Earth line up for spectacular 'Ring of Fire'

For Pettit and the rest of the space station crew, however, the most eye-popping site was the moon's shadow, which is split into two parts; the umbra, or darker central part, and the penumbra, the paler outer part of the lunar shadow.

Astronauts have seen solar eclipse shadows from space several times in the past from the International Space Station, as well as from other spacecraft like Russia's Mir space station.

This is one of a series of photos taken by Expedition 31 Flight Engineer Don Pettit aboard the International Space Station, showing a shadow of the moon created by the May 20, 2012 solar eclipse, as the shadow spreads across cloud cover on Earth. Pettit used a 28-mm lens on a digital still camera.

On Sunday, the station astronauts were not the only ones with a view of the eclipse from space.

NASA's Terra satellite spotted an amazing view of the moon's shadow crossing the Pacific Ocean. Two other satellites — the European Proba-2 and Japan's Hinode solar observatory — captured spectacular video of the moon crossing the sun during the eclipse.

The next solar eclipse will be the total solar eclipse of Nov. 13. That eclipse, however, will only be visible from the South Pacific Ocean and parts of northern Australia.

You can follow SPACE.com Managing Editor Tariq Malik on Twitter@tariqjmalik. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter@Spacedotcomand onFacebook.

© 2013 Space.com. All rights reserved. More from Space.com.

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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