Eclipse brings a rare connection for astronaut Shenzhou 11 crews

With nearly 400,000 miles to travel — 10 times the distance from New York to Paris — a group of Chinese astronauts flew through the moon’s shadow to Earth Saturday, bringing a rare solar eclipse and a moment of communion to the region.

The team parachuted into Antarctica from their landing site on the ice sheet at 11:50 p.m. Beijing time (1:50 a.m. EDT) and were joined by a complete spacecraft team and returned to their ground control in Xichang, where the mission is designed to mark the “100th anniversary of China’s first manned spaceflight.”

Sunday morning’s partial solar eclipse was the first visible in Antarctica since 1984, when the sun was just appearing to disappear behind the Earth. Even then, the experience was very different.

“For those who’ve never witnessed an eclipse, you still get to watch the shadow transition from darkness to light,” said Paul Cox, executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society, which is organizing a number of livestreamed events around the world on Oct. 8.

“This event is rarer than something like a supermoon when you can see it in all its glory,” Cox said. “And a lot of the remote areas have never seen anything like this eclipse.”

The total eclipse began over the eastern Pacific Ocean at 12:39 a.m. EDT (0539 GMT) on Oct. 7, and was visible from both hemispheres with the exception of Antarctica. The shadow, which formed by the moon’s orbit around the Earth, was also seen from the Pacific.

Accompanying the eclipse was a signal from Venera 1, the world’s first operational moon lander, which captured the moment for NASA. When NASA radioed the signal, Venera 1 released its video camera to capture the moment of totality for the moon’s rightful space identity.

Eclipse offers rare connection for astronaut Shenzhou 11 crews

“It’s the dawn of the solar cycle, the beginning of a new solar year,” the center’s John Garratt said from Florida before the lunar orbiter’s impact. “It’s just a great time to talk about the start of solar year six, the New Year, just like the year just ended.”

The second set of “hundreds” of eclipse broadcasts will be hosted by NASA space station specialists Scott Parazynski and Royce Renfrew, and will also feature Cassini, Voyager, Hubble and the Curiosity Rover from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

NASA says that the only places to view the eclipse in person are Antarctica, Hawaii, Brazil, Australia, China, Mongolia, Russia, India, Europe, South Africa, New Zealand, West Africa, the Pacific Islands and Alaska.

And in case you missed it, here’s NASA’s video of the solar eclipse.

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