On December 4, 2021, a total solar eclipse occurred over the skies of Antarctica. It was the only place on Earth where it was visible, and this photo from space shows the huge shadow the event cast over the southernmost continent.
Rarely-Seen Totality Over Antarctica
The above image was captured by the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) that is aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCVR). According to the NASA Earth Observatory, the DSCVR has a constant global view of Earth from its gravitationally stable point between the Sun and Earth, about 1.5 million kilometers away.
The view seen above was captured at 7:58 UTC, and the Moon’s shadow can be seen covering Antarctica like an inkblot. This view lasted for just two minutes at maximum darkness, caused by the total eclipse, before slowly disappearing. Antarctica’s summer months, the opposite of the summer in the Northern Hemisphere, usually sees the Sun sitting above the horizon for several months at a time, so the near-total darkness was extremely unusual.
The two natural-color images below really provide a sense of the difference in lighting conditions. Captured by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite, the two photos show how bright the same area of the Pensacola Mountains was on December 15 compared to just a few minutes before the height of the eclipse on December 4.
NASA points out the slight difference in the amount of darkness from south to north as the south-facing slopes receive some faint sunlight from the horizon.
Total solar eclipses are very rare in polar regions because they make up such a small amount of Earth’s land area and because the Sun only lights each pole for part of the year, NASA explains. Before the 2021 eclipse, the last time one occurred in Antarctica was November of 2003, and the next one won’t happen until 2039.
The Eclipse as Seen from the Ground
Very few people witnessed the total eclipse with their own eyes, but NASA provided a livestream of the event on its YouTube Channel. As PetaPixel reported at the time, members of the JM Pasachoff Antarctic Expedition Theo Boris and Christian A. Lockwood were positioned to photograph it and coordinated that stream for NASA.
Image credits: NASA image courtesy of the DSCOVR EPIC team. NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Photo of the eclipse from the ground by by Theo Boris and Christian A. Lockwood.