Garrett County Skies

By Dr. Bob Doyle, Frostburg State Planetarium

Venus Blossoms in Western Dusk, Jupiter in Southeastern Evening Sky, Spring starts

   Early March  – Oakland sunrises are about 6:50 a.m. while sunset times are about 6:15 p.m. There will be  an abrupt change on March 8 when we set our clocks forward an hour, shifting sunrises to 7:40 p.m. and sunsets to 7:15 p.m. The moon is full on the evening of March 5, shining in front of the stars of Leo, rising in the East at sunset and staying visible till dawn.  Venus is a beautiful sight in the southwest at dusk, brighter than any of the other planets and night stars. Her brilliance is due to her highly reflective clouds, large size (as big as Earth) and closeness to both the sun and Earth. Venus shines with a steady light, not twinkling as the stars. Venus is now setting about 8:40 p.m. (Standard Time), which will increase to 9:40 p.m. (Daylight Time).  In the southeastern evening sky, Jupiter is also very bright, peaking in the South in the late evening. The moon and Jupiter appear close on the evening of March 2.  The planet Saturn rises around Midnight in the southeast. In the southwestern dusk, Mars shines in Pisces, but is rather pale compared to Venus or Jupiter. Mercury can be seen low in the southeastern dawn, rising an hour ahead of the sun in early March. 

Mid March– By March 11, the moon will have shifted into the morning sky, rising after midnight. On March 13, the  morning moon will appear half full (like a backwards “D”) in the Southern dawn sky. The moon’s large craters can be seen with binoculars held steadily. Venus is glorious in the southwestern dusk, setting after 10 p.m. Jupiter peaks in the South about 10 p.m. Orion is prominent on March evenings, slowly drifting towards the West. To the left of Orion is  Sirius, the night’s brightest star. The Big Dipper is high in the North, dumping its soup on the ground below. It’s two top stars make a line that points left to the North Star, a modest star about all sky objects seem to orbit.  If you extend the handle of the Big Dipper, you come to a bright orange star named Arcturus, low in the East.  On the late afternoon of March 20, the sun’s direct rays cross the equator, moving North. On this day, the sun rises due East and sets due West over much of the world. This occasion is the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. About three days earlier, there is a balance between daylight and night, 12 hours for each.

Late March – Around the start of spring, sunlight has its most rapid growth, with the sunrise falling back about 1.5 minutes earlier each day and  the sunset about a minute later each day. The moon swings from the morning to the evening side of the sun on March 20. So a few days later, a crescent moon can be seen low in the western dusk. On March 22, the crescent moon will appear near the brilliant planet Venus. On March 26th, the evening moons will appear half full (like a letter ‘D’), offering the best views of the moon’s craters. Along the straight edge of the moon, the sun is rising, lighting up the crater rims and mountain peaks. For several days before March 26 and after, the moon is at its best for telescopic and binocular viewing.  As March ends, the brilliant planet Venus is setting 3 hours after sunset. (then about 7:40 p.m.)  The bright planet Jupiter is peaking in the South about 9:45 p.m.

Mach Planetarium Program in the CCIT building Room 186 – Each Sunday in March there will be a presentation “Heavenly Poetry” at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.  These presentations are free to the public. But food, drinks, snacks and gum are not allowed in the MLC.  Late comers will not be admitted.