Garrett County Skies

By Dr. Bob Doyle, Frostburg State Planetarium


 Inner Planets Seen in Western Dusk, August 12 Shower, Venus-Jupiter Line Up on August 27


SUN & MOON:  As August opens, the sun is in Cancer. In late August, the sun moves into Leo. (During the course of a year, the motion of the Earth about the sun causes the sun to appear to move eastward across the 13 zodiac star groups. The 13th zodiac star group is Ophiuchus, between Scorpius and Sagittarius. )  At the start of August, the sun rises about 6:17 a.m. in Oakland and sets about 8:30 p.m. By the end of August, Oakland sunrises are about 6:45 a.m. with sunsets about 7:50 p.m. On August 2nd, the moon switches from the morning to the evening side of the sun. By the evening of August 4, a slender crescent  moon will appear near the planet Mercury low in the western dusk. On the evening of August 5, the crescent moon will appear near the bright planet Jupiter in the western dusk. On the evening of August 10, the moon will appear half full, offering the best views of the moonís surface features (craters, mountain ridges) through binoculars or telescopes. On the evening of August 11, the moon will appear above the  planet Mars in the southern sky. The moon will be full in the early morning hours of August 18. A week later, the moon will appear half full (like a reversed ĎDí) in the southern dawn. As August ends, the moon will be lost in the sunís dawn glare.

THE PLANETS: As August opens, the planets Mars and Saturn can be seen in the southern evening  sky. With the bright pink star Antares, these three points of light form a triangle. Jupiter can still be  seen low in the Southwest at dusk. Very low in the West are the inner planets Mercury and Venus.

Through mid August, the more brilliant Venus will appear below Mercury. On August 24, the planet Mars will appear above the bright star Antares, On August 25, Mars will appear above the planet Saturn.  On  August 27, the two brightest planets, Jupiter and Venus will appear less than a moonís width apart low in the western dusk. Mercury may be seen below this planetary line up.

AUGUST 12th   A.M. METEOR SHOWER. Every year we have meteor showers about the same date. A meteor shower occurs when the Earth plows through a cometís orbit, laden with grit particles. Comets flake off grit as their outer layers melt from the sunís rays in the inner solar system. These grit particles are left behind, following the cometís orbit. Then at about the same time each year, the Earth encounters a large number of grit particles (about the size of a pea), which burn up from air friction about 50 miles altitude. The August 12th shower is called the Perseid meteor shower as the meteors can be traced back to the star group Perseus in the Northern sky. But the Perseids can be seen all across the sky. The best way to see these meteors is to lie prone on a blanket away from trees so you can see as much of the sky as possible. These meteors will be better in the A.M. hours as by then the moon will have set. Also the meteors will be colliding nearly head on with the Earth, causing them to appear brighter.

FREE PUBLIC PLANETARIUM PROGRAM: The Frostburg State Planetarium will give a planetarium  program on August 13 at 8 p.m. in room 186 of the Gira Center. Weather permitting, telescopes will be set up outside  after the program to view the moon and planets.