SKY GUIDE: This map represents the night sky as it appears over Maine during April. The stars are shown as they appear at 9:30 p.m. early in the month, at 9:30 p.m. at midmonth, and at 8:30 p.m. at month’s end. Sadly, this month no planets will be visible in the evening sky. To use the map, hold it vertically and turn it so that the direction you are facing is at the bottom. Sky Chart prepared by Seth Lockman

April this year offers the single greatest natural event that you could ever experience in astronomy: a total solar eclipse.

Over 70 million people are expected to make the effort to place themselves directly in the narrow, 110-mile-wide path of the lunar shadow on Monday, April 8. About 30 million people already live right in this narrow path that the moon’s shadow will carve from northwestern Mexico, then from Texas to Maine, including a direct path over Niagara Falls and into Canada.

Then all you need is clear skies. Mexico has the best weather prospects, then Texas, and then they go downhill from there as the shadow progresses toward the Northeast. If the clouds are light you may find an opening for those critical three and a half minutes.

If not, then try to catch a live feed of the event from another location even as you are watching it. Almost everyone along the eclipse path from Oregon to South Carolina on Aug, 21, 2017, was able to experience this great event. I saw that one from Driggs, Idaho, near Yellowstone, and the Grand Tetons which created a perfect and dramatic backdrop for such a grand and memorable natural spectacle.

Here in Maine, the total solar eclipse on April 8 can be seen in a path that includes northern towns such as Greenville, Jackman, Millinocket and Houlton. At its peak, the total solar eclipse will last about two to three and a half minutes, depending on the location. This will take place at about 3:30 p.m.

Don’t just stay in the Portland area or any other part of Maine that will not be right in this path. Even a 99% eclipse is nothing compared to a total solar eclipse because it will not go dark, you will not see the corona, the stars and planets will not come out.


The entire state will experience at least a partial solar eclipse that will last from approximately 2:20 to 4:40 p.m. And this is important: Be certain to wear protective eye gear when viewing the partial eclipse, or you could risk damage to your eyes.

There is still some time to practice any photography that you may want to do to try to capture and share this majestic event with others. There are many great websites and practical videos on how to best accomplish this, so try to watch some of them to be properly prepared.

To view the total solar eclipse, try to pick a spot with as much open space and altitude as possible to best experience this shadow, which will plunge the entire landscape, including you, into deep twilight darkness. It will race over you at about 2,000 miles per hour, so you get a great sense of this constant speed along with an idea of the width and distance to the moon since it will only last for a few minutes. It would last a little longer if the moon were closer to the earth at that time. Also make sure to take some time to look all around you to see the full 360-degree deep salmon-colored twilight.

There are many other strange phenomena to look for as the sun gets smaller and smaller in our sky. All of the shadows around you will get super sharp, and the temperature will drop 10 or more degrees. Shadow bands will race across the earth like snakes just before and after totality, caused by a refraction effect in our atmosphere. Try to create hundreds of dancing crescent suns all around you simply by letting the sun shine through the holes in a colander or a straw hat or any pinholes you can create to spell anything out with the sun as the light source.

Look for the pink ring of the chromosphere of the sun and any prominences or solar flares that may be happening as the sun gets covered. That is the only time it will be safe to remove your solar filters from your eyes or cameras or binoculars, just for those three short minutes. Then make sure you put them right back on after that.

Look for Bailey’s beads during the last minute before totality as the last few rays of the sun shine through the valleys on the moon between its mountains. Then the diamond ring effect is the last brilliant flash of light before the sun disappears as if it dropped into a black hole and was torn right out of the fabric of space-time, and everything that you thought you knew about the familiar sun and earth and sky becomes instantly alien.


Another thing that amazed me during the 2017 eclipse was how all the bright planets and some stars became instantly visible as the sun went out. This time, you will see Venus, Saturn, and Mars to the right of the sun since they are morning planets, and you will see Jupiter to the left of the sun since it is now an evening planet in Aries, where the sun will be during this eclipse. You should also be able to see all eight of the bright stars that make up the Winter Hexagon along with the Pleiades just to the left of the sun and Jupiter. That would include Taurus, Gemini, Orion and Sirius in Canis Major, the brightest star in our sky from either hemisphere.

Another thing you will not be prepared for if you have never seen a total eclipse before is the fact that the pearly white and ethereal corona or atmosphere of the sun also becomes instantly visible as everything else goes dark. This atmosphere extends nearly 3 million miles into space all around the sun, or about four times the width of the normally visible part of the sun. Remember that this pearly corona is always there, but it only shines forth when the rest of its brilliant light is temporarily extinguished by the moon.

The last total solar eclipse over Maine was on July 20, 1963, and the next one will not be until May 1, 2079. The next one in this country will not happen until Aug. 23, 2044, so make every effort to see this one. I guarantee that you will not be disappointed if it is clear.

All the rest of the highlights for this month pale in comparison to such a phenomenal, rare and unforgettable event as a total solar eclipse, but I will cover a few of them anyway. The first good meteor shower since January will happen on Monday morning, April 22. Caused by Comet Thatcher, you would normally see about 20 Lyrids per hour emanating from Lyra in the summer triangle, but this time it happens just before the full moon, so you will see about half that many toward dawn if it is clear.

Look for a close conjunction of Mars and Saturn very low in the eastern morning sky on April 5. A thin waning crescent moon will join the pair the next morning. Then keep watching as they get even closer until they start drifting apart again after April 10. Venus is the remaining morning planet now rising about half an hour before the sun. We will lose it by the end of next month.



April 1: In 1997, Comet Hale-Bopp made its closest approach to the sun. Last quarter moon is at 11:15 p.m.

April 7: The moon is near Venus in the morning sky. The moon is at perigee, or closest to the earth today at 222,979 miles. This makes for a longer total solar eclipse and a wider path for the moon on the earth. … The Compton Gamma Ray observatory was launched in 1991. It discovered about one gamma ray burst every day. It came down just 9 years later.

April 8: New moon is at 2:21 p.m. A total solar eclipse will happen from Mexico to Canada.

April 10: The moon passes near Jupiter this evening.

April 11: Halley’s Comet made its closest approach to Earth in 1986.

April 12: In 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the earth.


April 14: Christiaan Huygens was born in 1629. He invented the pendulum clock in 1656, and the spacecraft that landed on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn on Jan. 14, 2005, was named in his honor.

April 15: First quarter moon is at 3:13 p.m. Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452.

April 22: The Lyrid meteor shower peaks this morning.

April 23: Full moon is at 7:49 p.m. This is also called the Grass, Egg, Pink or Fish Moon.

April 25: In 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched.

April 26: The moon passes near Antares in Scorpius once again this morning.

Bernie Reim, of Wells, is co-director of the Astronomical Society of Northern New England.

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