Garrett County Skies

By Dr. Bob Doyle, Frostburg State Planetarium


     Sun and Moon this month Ė As July begins, the Sun appears in front of the stars of Gemini, appearing to move a degree per day eastward relative to the stars. In the late afternoon of July 3, the Earth is farthest from the sun at a distance of 94.5 million miles. The reason for the seasons is the tilt of the Earthís axis. In late spring/early summer, the northern hemisphere leans towards the sun, increasing the sunís height and the length of the sunís daily sky path. The amount of sunlit energy per square foot is more than twice the sunlit energy of the late fall and early winter.  In the late afternoon of July 20th, the sun enters Cancer .Both of  these star groups are nearly lost in the Sunís glare in July. In early July, sunrises in Oakland are about 5:54 a.m. while sunsets are about 8:49  p.m.(14.9  hours of daylight). Around the end of July, Oaklandís sunrises are about 6:15 a.m. and sunsets occur about 8:30 p.m. (14.25 hours of daylight). The above times are for places with flat eastern and western horizons. During July, the stars are last seen around 5 a.m.(early dawn) and then reappear about 9:40 p.m.(late dusk)

       On July 1, the moon appears as a slender crescent low  in the western dusk, seen about 9:30 p.m. On July 5, the evening moon is half full (1st quarter) with the planet Mars just South of the moon. On the evening of July 7, the moon is just below the planet Saturn. On the night of July 11-12, the moon is full, positioned to the left of Sagittarius. Just as Juneís full moon, Julyís full moon has a low path across the sky, barely reaching 1/3 of the way up in the South in the middle of the night (about 1 a.m.). On July 19th, the moon appears half full in the southern dawn. On July 24,  the crescent moon appears near the brilliant planet Venus low in the southeastern dawn. On the afternoon of July 26, the moon moves from the morning side of the sun to the evening side (New Moon). On July 28, the moon reappears as a crescent low in the western dusk.    

   Planets this month  Ė The five nearest planets are easily seen by eye, four of them shining steadily in contrast to the twinkling stars. Of the five, Mercury is usually the most difficult to see. In the middle of July, Mercury can be seen low in the eastern dawn, appearing below the planet Venus. All through July, Venus is a brilliant dawn object, appearing low in the Southeast; Venus is then rising about 2 hours ahead of the sun. At evening twilight (9:45 p.m.), both the planet Mars and Saturn are seen low in the southwest. In early July, Mars appears to the right of the bright star Spica (of Virgo). In mid July, Mars will pass over Spica. The planet Saturn is in Libra, well to the left of Mars. In July, the planet Jupiter is at too low an angle from the sun to be viewed.  

Evening Stars this month - On July evenings, the Big Dipper is easy to recognize in the North Northwest. The lowest two stars of the scoop point rightward to the North Star. The Dipperís handle can be extended in an arc to the bright golden star Arcturus, high in the West. The bright white-blue star Vega is nearly overhead in the evening hours. Low in the South is the bright pinkish star Antares, which lies in the head of the Scorpion.

     The Cumberland Astronomy Club with members from the Tri-State area will meet on Friday, July 18th at 7:30 p.m. at the LaVale Public Library, just off Route 40, about a mile to the East of the State Police Barracks. All interested sky gazers are welcome.