Totality memoirs and late summer skies

My brain is still processing my 4th total eclipse experience as I traveled from Maine to Idaho for the celestial event on August 21st.  Back here my two grad students Alex and Andrew held down the fort at Emera Astronomy Center and had over 900 visitors for the partial eclipse here in our state.  It will be good practice for totality in 2024 here in Maine.  I’m already exploring options for that eclipse and planning viewing locally, so if you enjoyed the partial, you must make it out to see totality on April 8, 2024!

There is nothing quite like experiencing “totality” during a solar eclipse, and even thought this was number four for me, it was so incredible, breathtaking, and awe-inspiring!  The sky does not get completely dark, but become an eerie twilight brightness with brighter stars and planets visible.  The shadows and colors are really indescribable, and photos do not do it justice.  That being said I have seen some really incredible images.  One of my good friends and observing buddies from years back Douglas  A. Norton took this one and gave me permission to share it with you. Check out his website for more images.

Totality during August 21, 2017 solar Eclipse – Photo by Douglas A. Norton

Mainer John Meader has a great collection of images he took of the eclipse, see to see his work. The Eclipse Megamovie 2017 project invited submissions and is making a full movie of totality from numerous places across the United States.  Do check out their website to see some more great images.  Seeing totality should be on everyone’s bucket list, as while the photos can be spectacular they really do not compare to the seeing it in person as the human experience of this cannot be replicated.

On to our local skies and a bit of late summer stargazing. The Acadia Night Sky Festival is coming up in a few weeks, so now is the time to get some practice in before the big event!  Here is your guide to the sky for August 28 to Sept 3, 2017…


Last Quarter Moon takes place Tuesday at 4:13 am and the Moon is at Apogee on Wednesday. That same evening look for Saturn which will be four degrees south of it in the sky.  Our days are shortening as we move toward the upcoming equinox in late September.  Sunrise currently is at 5:57 am and sunset is at 7:13 pm for this week

Planets for the week

Mercury rises around 5:25, so try to catch it low in the east just in morning twilight. Venus rises around 3:10 am in the east as a bright morning star. Mars is lost in the glare of the Sun currently, while Jupiter is in the southwestern sky setting around 8:45 pm, so catch it as soon as possible after sunset.  Saturn is high in the south at sunset, and it sets around 11:30 pm.

Late Summer Stars

As summer starts to wane moving into fall, now is a good time to review the summer skies.  Start by finding the Summer Triangle made up of Vega, Deneb, and Altair.  Can you find the associated constellations for each star from your own backyard?  See if you can spot Sagittarius the teapot, or Scorpius the Scorpion in the South, and look for fainter Hercules and Ophiuchus.  Summer skies provide numerous bright stars and constellations, but soon autumn will be upon us with much fainter groupings.  Do try to find the summer constellations as they will help with finding fall wonders ahead.

Starchart for August 31 at 8 pm – provided by

A Couple Bright Passes of ISS

On Friday, September 1st look for the International Space Station from 4:51 am to 4:54 am moving from south to east-southeast.  See it again on Sunday from 4:42 to 4:48 moving from south to east-northeast.  The pass on Sunday morning will be very bright and well worth checking out if you are an early morning riser.

As school starts and we have clear weather here in Maine, get out there and take a few minutes to drink in the wonders and beauty of our night sky before life gets too hectic.  I hope each of you saw a part of the solar eclipse either here in Maine where it was a partial eclipse, or somewhere where you could bask in totality – as it truly was a special event.  Our skies are precious here in Maine, and few places have ones as dark as we do, so make sure you take time to view them and share them with friends and family. 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.