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Nasa spacecraft watches two breathtaking eclipses of the Sun by the Earth and the Moon in less than seven hours

  • The Solar Dynamics Observatory is in the midst of its biannual eclipse season when its orbit puts the Earth between it and the Sun
  • The first image shows the Earth transiting the Sun, with a fuzzy outline caused by light shining through the atmosphere
  • The moon's transit appears much clearer, since the natural satellite has no atmosphere to break up its outline

By Damien Gayle

PUBLISHED: 06:25 EST, 12 March 2013 | UPDATED: 06:58 EST, 12 March 2013

These breathtaking pictures show the Earth and the moon eclipsing the Sun as seen from the Nasa spacecraft which studies the star at the centre of our solar system.

Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured the awe inspiring pictures as it observed transits by both our planet and its natural satellite on Sunday night to Monday morning.

The SDO entered its biannual eclipse season at the beginning of March, a period of three weeks when Earth blocks its view of the sun for a period of time each day.

Breathtaking: In this image taken by Nasa's Solar Dynamics Observatory the view of the Sun is blocked by the Earth. The boundaries of Earth's shadow appear fuzzy, since SDO can see some light through the atmosphere

Breathtaking: In this image taken by Nasa's Solar Dynamics Observatory the view of the Sun is blocked by the Earth. The boundaries of Earth's shadow appear fuzzy, since SDO can see some light through the atmosphere

Earth blocked SDO’s view of the sun from about 10.15pm to 11.45pm GMT on Sunday night. Later, from around 3.30am to 4.45am Monday morning, the moon moved in front of the sun for a partial eclipse.

When Earth blocks the sun, the boundaries of Earth’s shadow appear fuzzy, since SDO can see some light from the sun coming through Earth’s atmosphere.

The line of Earth appears almost straight, since Earth - from SDO’s point of view - is so large compared to the sun.

The eclipse caused by the Moon, by contrast looks very different.

Awe-inspiring: This image, taken just a few hours later, shows the view as the Moon moves in front of the SDO's view of the Sun. Since the Moon has no atmosphere, and the line of its shadow is crisp and clean

Awe-inspiring: This image, taken just a few hours later, shows the view as the moon moves in front of the SDO's view of the Sun. Since the moon has no atmosphere, and the line of its shadow is crisp and clean

Since the moon has no atmosphere, its curved shape can be seen clearly, and the line of its shadow is crisp and clean.

Any spacecraft observing the Sun from an orbit around Earth has to contend with such eclipses, but SDO's orbit is designed to minimize them as much as possible, with only two three-week eclipse seasons each year.

The 2013 spring eclipse season continues until March 26. The autumn season will begin on September 2.

By Staff 03/12/2013 00:58:00