August treasure trove for observers

As August begins, get ready for a month of celestial sites, from the annual Perseid Meteor Shower to the Solar Eclipse along with wonderful planets and more.  In this week’s post we look ahead at our month while exploring the sights of our current sky as well.  Here is your guide to the sky for July 31 – August 6, 2017…

Sun, Earth, and Moon

Partial Solar Eclipse

Sunrise this week is at 5:20 am and sunset at 8:02 pm.  Our star does have one small spot after being clear for the past two weeks.  Sunspots are cool regions on the photosphere or surface of the Sun caused by magnetic disturbances, and to view them you do need proper solar filters for  the safety of your eyes.  Speaking of the Sun, there is a solar eclipse on August 21st that passes through the entire continental United States.  Here in Maine we get a partial eclipse with the Moon obscuring the Sun anywhere from 59.9% in the far southwestern portion of the state to 48.6% in the far northeast.  Watch this space for more details in the next week or so, on how to observer the eclipse safely, timings and more information. In the meantime do check out the Great American Eclipse Webpage ( with info and viewing tips.  Emera Astronomy Center will be conducting free solar eclipse viewing on August 21st from 1:00 to 4:00 pm with special telescopes and filters.  The August Friday night show Totality – Explore the Wonders of Eclipses starts this week on August 4th at 7:00 pm.  See for details and tickets.

Totality – The Wonder of Eclipses

On Tuesday, August 1st we are at the cross-quarter day of Lughnasa, a point halfway between the Summer Solstice and Fall Equinox.  It was celebrated by Gaelic and Celtic cultures as the day that marked the beginning of the harvest festival.  The festival was often marked with feasts and matchmaking, as well as religious ceremonies most taking place on hilltops or mountains.  Some customs survived into the 20th century and being celebrated on the nearest Sunday with various names as Biberry Sunday, Mountain Sunday, or Crom Dubh Sunday.

The Moon is at apogee on Wednesday and this week we are in the waxing gibbous phase being between First Quarter which took place on August 30, and Full Moon which happens next week.  The “Gibbous” phase means “hunchback” as often the Moon is compared to the position of a person which ages – from fetal position at the young crescent, to a straight back at first quarter, to being hunchbacked getting old.  So get out there and enjoy seeing the hunchback Moon this week!

Planets for the week

Mercury sinks in twilight after sunset becoming challenging to see. Jupiter is in the southwest at sunset and is visible until around 10:30 when it sets.  Saturn is high in the south at sunset, and the hunchback Moon is three degrees south of it on Thursday. Find bright Venus rising around 2:30am in the east as a bright morning star.  Mars is lost in the glow of the Sun.

Perseid Meteor Shower – Getting ready….

Last week the Delta Aquariid Meteor Shower peaked, and on August 12th the Perseids which is the best annual meteor shower will do so.  Why talk about this now, well it is a good time to start preparations.  By the end of this week you might see a few Perseids in the early morning hours.  Look for Perseus, a somewhat “Christmas tree” shaped group which will rise around 11:30 pm in the northeast.  Perseus was known for being the hero that saved Andromeda from Cetus the sea monster.  Meteors radiant point is in this constellation, and while the best time typically is between 2:00 to 4:00 am, you might catch a few earlier.   If the weather cooperates, I’ll be assisting the Hirundo Wildlife Refuge with an observing event on the evening of Friday, August 11th for this shower.  Hope you can come out and join us for the event!

August 3 at 11:00 pm – Star Chart by


Have a great week sky watching, and star planning for the upcoming August celestial sites.  Hope to see you for the Perseids.  Happy summer stargazing and 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.