Garrett County Skies

GARRETT COUNTY SKIES
By Dr. Bob Doyle, Frostburg State Planetarium

      Venus & Mars Seen for 3 Hours in Western Evening Sky and Winter Oval of Evening Stars

    SUN-MOON IN JANUARY: At the beginning of January local sunrise is at 7:38 a.m. with sunset at 5:04 p.m.  On January 4, the Earth is closest to the sun for the year at a distance of 91.5 million miles. Our cold weather in early winter is due to the northern hemisphere being tipped away from the sun. In early summer when we are farthest from the sun, the northern hemisphere is tipped towards the sun. In the first half of January, the sun is in Sagittarius, the southernmost zodiac star group. Then the sun moves into Capricornus, further North of Sagittarius, leading to longer daylight hours. At the end of January, Oaklandís sunrise will be at 7:26 a.m. with sunset at 5:36 p.m. As January opens, the moon is a slender crescent in the western dusk. On January 1, a slender crescent moon will appear below the brilliant planet Venus in the West. The next evening, the moon appears below Mars. On January 5, the evening moon will appear half full (First Quarter). The right side of the moon faces the sun while the left side is in lunar night. From January 3 through 7, the evenings will be great for viewing the moonís craters and mountain ridges along the lighted straight edge of the moon (where the sun there is rising). Even a pair of binoculars held steadily (lean against the side of your house) will show some of the larger craters. The moon is full on the evening of January 12. This is another long night moon that can be seen for 13.6 hours while the sun light lasts only 9.6 hours. On January 19, the moon appears close to the bright planet Jupiter in the predawn sky. The moon will then appear half full (Last Quarter). On January 24, the crescent moon will appear near the planet Saturn in the 6:15 a.m. dawn. On January 28, the moon will shift from the morning to the evening side of the sun. On January 31, the crescent moon will appear below and to the left of the brilliant planet Venus in the western dusk.

PLANETS IN JANUARY 2017: Both brilliant Venus and pale Mars are easily visible this month in the western dusk. In mid January, both planets are setting 3 hours after sunset (about 9:30 p.m.)  At the start of January, the two planets are about 5 degrees apart (1/2 of a fist width held at armís length); at the end of the month, Venus and Mars are twice as far apart. On January 12 Venus is at its greatest angle from the sun. The bright planet Jupiter is in Virgo in the morning sky, rising earlier each night. By late January, Jupiter will be rising before midnight. The planet Saturn angle to the sun increases during  January. By the end of January, Saturn will be rising at 4:20 a.m. Mercury can only be seen with difficulty in January, reaching its greatest angle from the sun on the 19th, when it appears low in the southeast around 6:30 a.m.

EVENING STARS: All of the bright winter evening stars are in view by 8 p.m. Look in the South for Orion with his belt of  three stars in a row. This belt points left and down to Sirius, the nightís brightest star. Above and to the left of Sirius is the bright star Procyon. Above Procyon are Pollux and Castor, bright stars marking the heads of the Gemini brothers.  Nearly overhead is the bright golden star Capella. Then to the right and lower is the bright orange star Aldebaran, representing the eye of Taurus. Below Aldebaran is the white-blue star Rigel, Orionís brightest star. Starting with Sirius, you can go clockwise with the above stars and you will form an oval of bright stars. This oval is the highest concentration of bright stars in the sky.

    Still available for free is the 2017 Night Sky Highlights, a 3 page document send over the internet.  Request your copy at rdoyle@frostburg.edu . This document includes sunrise and sunset times for both Oakland and Grantsville for about 40 dates in 2017.