A celestial new year with Eye on Maine Skies

Welcome to 2017 and to Eye on Maine Skies!  This blog is dedicated to helping you find your way around the skies of Maine and keeping you up to date on the latest astronomy and space exploration happenings.  Along the way you will gain tips to finding planets, exploring constellations, spotting satellites, and much more.  Grab your warm clothes and head outside after sunset to catch a glimpse of some celestial wonders!  Here is your guide to the sky for January 1 -7, 2017…

Sun – Earth – Moon

This week Mainer’s have just under nine hours of daylight with sunrise this week is at 7:13 am and sunset at 4:08pm.  With the longer nights of winter, now is a great time to get out and check out the sky for a variety of celestial sights.  Earth is at Perihelion (the closest point to the Sun) on January 4th helping folks remember that the seasons are a result of the tilt of the Earth on its axis at 23.5 degrees.  First quarter Moon also takes place on Thursday at 2:47 pm.


Venus and Mars shine bright after sunset in the west-southwestern skies.  A crescent Moon will be a degree north of Venus on January 2nd and about a half a degree north of Mars on January 3rd.  Jupiter rises in the East a half hour after midnight and is high in the South at Sunrise.  Mercury and Saturn are visible low in the morning sky just prior to sunrise.  To see them you will need a clear eastern horizon.  Saturn rises around 5:30 am and Mercury around 6:00 am.  Look for both in morning twilight if you are an early riser.

Constellation of the week

A good place to begin looking for constellations is starting in this season with Orion the mighty Hunter.  Orion is a rectangle of bright stars with three stars in its center, look for it at 8pm in the southwestern sky.  Red Betelgeuse and blue Bellatrix mark Orion’s shoulders, while Saiph and Rigel mark his knees.  These frame the belt made from the stars Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka.  Orion was seen as the hunter by the Greeks and in one legend fought a battle with Scorpius the Scorpion – a constellation visible in summer skies.  If you have a pair of binoculars, look just below his belt to see the Orion Nebula, a cloud of gas and dust where new stars are forming.  Watch this space for how to use Orion to find other winter constellations.

Satellites to see

The International Space Station makes a bright pass on Tuesday morning from 5:24 to 5:28 am moving from southwest to northeast.  On Thursday morning try catching a glimpse of the Chinese satellite Tiangong 1 which will be visible from 6:09 to 6:14 am moving from west to east.

There is so much to see in Maine’s skies, so why not take advantage of this wonderful natural resource.  All you need are your eyes, and some curiosity.  For a live guided tour of the night sky, join me at the Emera Astronomy Center for one of our regular programs.  For now, keep your eye on the sky!

Shawn Laatsch

About Shawn Laatsch

Shawn Laatsch is the director of the Emera Astronomy Center and Jordan Planetarium at the University of Maine. He started his astronomy education career in 1984 and has directed planetariums in university and science center facilities, taught undergraduate astronomy courses, and given numerous lectures around the globe. He serves as President (2017 & 2018) of the International Planetarium Society, Inc. the world’s largest organization of planetarium professionals. Shawn has a passion for sharing astronomy and stargazing with people of all ages.