Cassini Saturn Mission to go out with a BANG!

After a nearly 20 year adventure, the Cassini spacecraft will go out with a bang on Friday, September 15, when it plunges into the atmosphere of Saturn and burns up. This fiery farewell is necessary because the probe will soon run out of the fuel needed to make orbital corrections, and NASA is concerned that in the future a dead and drifting probe might accidentally crash into (and pollute) one of the icy moons, such as Enceladus or Titan. But even in its death, Cassini will increase our understanding of Saturn’s cloud layers. For a summary of all the historic discoveries made by this amazing mission, see the NASA website.

Saturn is still visible in the night sky, visible in the south above and to the left of the bright red star Antares in Scorpius directly after sunset. If you have a telescope, even a small one, why not view the ringed planet for yourself before Cassini’s demise and wave fond farewell in the direction of one of the finest spacecraft ever sent into the outer solar system!

Weather permitting, the Copernican Observatory will view Saturn this Saturday night (September 16) after the regularly scheduled free public planetarium show. The planetarium show begins at 8 PM. For more information, consult our website.



Reliving the Total Solar Eclipse

[Pinhole projections of the partial phase as well as the diamond ring after the total phase of the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse as seen from Marion, IL.]

Viewing a total solar eclipse is an extremely emotional experience, whether it is your first (in Jess’s case) or your fifth (in Kris’s case). We attempted to shoot a Facebook Live video with a cellphone of the minutes before totality until the internet connection cut out about halfway through totality. Although the visual portion is questionable at best, the audio gives you an accurate portrayal of the raw emotion that comes with witnessing a total eclipse after the years of planning, hundreds or thousands of miles of travelling, and nail-biting hours of wondering if the clouds will thwart all your hard work. Enjoy!

— Kris Larsen and Jessica Johnson

[Note: although the video is set as Public, it may not play on certain browsers]

Copernican Observatory Recognized for its Halloween Fun


The Copernican Observatory was highlighted in a recent article in the Astronomical League’s Reflector magazine, as shone above, in a story about Halloween observing. For several years, astronomy professor Kristine Larsen and then student (now alumna) Jessica Johnson decorated the observatory dome each Halloween. The Great Pumpkin isn’t so great compared to our festive (and now famous) Jack-o-lantern dome.

Eclipse is Life-changing Experience for CCSU Alumna


[Jessica Johnson looking excited at 4:30AM on the bus to see totality; Diamond ring photo by Justin Motta]

Editor’s note: Jessica Johnson, CCSU alumna, posted the following to Facebook shortly after experiencing her first total solar eclipse. She graciously allowed us to share it with you

Words cannot describe what I have just experienced. It was dodgy early on and we drove almost 4.5 hours this morning to get out of the way of a nasty frontal system. We made it to Marion, IL and only had to bribe a few towering cumulus clouds to leave. I have never seen an eclipse before and I still don’t know if I am composed enough to describe it or even process what I have just witnessed. Seeing the total eclipse, corona, and everything else associated with it has rendered me speechless (which doesn’t happen too often). It was like an amazing dream and it was worth the wait. I just sat there and cried; staring at something that was so beyond what pictures or stories could ever give. If there was ever a time or an experience where I was physically/emotionally reminded that I was a part of something so much larger than myself this eclipse exceeded it and happily reminded me of the star dust in which I was born and will return to. Just so wonderful and awe inspiring, I am still emotional and will remember this for the rest of my life. Thanks to Kris Larsen for making this a reality for me. I can’t wait for the next one! I have no pictures because I wanted to just experience it, but I have friends who will share pics with me and I will share with you [See above picture from Justin Motta].

— Jessica Johnson, CCSU Class of 2016

What to do with those eclipse glasses now

[NASA eclipse glasses donated to the Burlington Library by NASA Solar System Ambassador Kris Larsen; empty box that once house the 1000 pairs of eclipse glasses Kris Larsen bought and donated to the public for the eclipse]

Now that the Great American Eclipse is over, what do you do with those eclipse glasses? Given the pains many of you went through to get them, it seems a shame to just discard them. You can put them in a safe place until the April 8, 2024 eclipse (which will be 90% partial in Connecticut, and total in parts of New England and New York state). If you do this, you should examine them for any holes or defects BEFORE the 2024 eclipse (in case you need to get new pairs). You can always use them to view large sunspot groups. Only large groups are seen with just eclipse glasses and the eye, so it will not be an everyday event. To monitor sunspot activity, I recommend the Spaceweather website.

If you want to pass on to someone else the excitement you felt at observing the eclipse, you can donate your glasses (if they are in good condition) to Astronomers Without Borders, who will redistribute them to schools in South America for the next two total solar eclipses. Please follow the directions on their website.

Of course, you might just hang on to them as a memento!

More eclipse adventures!

[Left: partial eclipse as viewed from CCSU; Right: 350 million year old crinoid fossils collected in Missouri]

Don’t forget to visit our sister blog,, to see more eclipse adventures, both at home and on the road!

Coming to this blog soon (after we recover!) a very personal reflection on her first eclipse experience by alumna Jessica Johnson, and a rather humorous overview of the eclipse expedition by Kristine Larsen.

The Great American Eclipse Does Not Disappoint!

[Clockwise from left: Ending diamond ring (photo courtesy of Justin Motta); CCSU astronomy professor (and AAVSO President) Kristine Larsen, alumna Jessica Johnson, and AAVSO Director Stella Kafka prepare to leave hotel in Columbia, MO at 4 AM for the eclipse; pinhole images of a slender crescent sun seen through tree leaves near Marion, IL]

Wherever you viewed the Great American Eclipse from, we hope it was as amazing an experience as it was for CCSU professor Kristine Larsen and alumna Jessica Johnson. After years of preparation, including numerous public talks and giving away 1000 pairs of solar eclipse glasses, Larsen traveled to Columbia, MO with former research student Jessica Johnson to witness Larsen’s fifth and Johnson’s first total solar eclipse. When the weather reports turned iffy, three buses of eclipse aficionados made the decision to leave Columbia at 4:30 AM on eclipse day and travel nearly five hours to Marion, IL in search of the perfect skies. More details on this life changing experience will follow, but as you can see from the above pictures, it was well worth the early morning trek.