Garrett County Skies

By Dr. Bob Doyle, Frostburg State Planetarium


     Sun and Moon this month – As September begins, the Sun appears in front of the stars of Leo, moving a degree a day eastward relative to the stars. In mid September, the Sun enters the star group Virgo where it stays through the end of October. Both of the above star groups are nearly lost  in the Sun’s glare in September. The star group Libra is to the east of Virgo so it sets after the Sun, appearing low in the western dusk. The star group Cancer (to the west of  Leo)  rises before the Sun and is visible low in the eastern dawn. In early September, sunrises in Oakland are about 6:48 a.m. while sunsets are about  7:45 p.m.(13.1 hours of daylight). Around the end of September, Oakland’s sunrises are about 7:10 a.m. and sunsets occur about 7:05 p.m. (11.9 hours of daylight). So during September, the stars are last seen around 6 a.m.(early dawn) and then reappear about 8:30 p.m.(late dusk).

       September starts with the moon half full (1st Quarter) in the evening sky. On the evening of September 8th, the moon is full, shining in front of the stars of Aquarius. This is the Harvest Moon, the full moon closest to the start of fall (on September 22). The moon’s orbit is then at a low angle to the eastern horizon, so the moon shifts northward from evening to evening. This reduces the delay in moonrise to about 40 minutes from night to night. So there will extra evening moonlight the next four evenings (Sept. 9-12). 18th and 19th century farmers used this extra moonlight to gather their crops. After September 14, the moon won’t be rising till after midnight. On the morning of September 20th, the crescent moon will appear near the bright planet Jupiter. On September 24th, the moon will swing from the morning to the evening sky (New Moon). By September 26th, the moon will reappear as a slender crescent low in the western dusk. On September 27th a slender crescent moon will appear the planet Saturn low in the western dusk. On the next evening, the crescent moon will appear near the planet Mars.

      September Planets  – 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, at a low angle to the sun. In September 2014,  Mercury is too close to the horizon at sunset to be seen. Brilliant Venus is also elusive, rising an hour before the sun in early September .Venus will be lost in the morning twilight by mid month. The planet Jupiter is prominent in the southeastern dawn sky. Jupiter’s rising time increases from 2.5 hours to 4 hours ahead of the sun during September. Both Mars and Saturn can be glimpsed low in the southwestern sky in the early evening.

     September Evening Stars – The Big Dipper is well placed in the North Northwest so it can hold water or soup. The two end scoop stars point rightward to the North Star, a modest star about halfway up in the North. If you extend the Big Dipper’s handle outward, you come to the golden sparkling star Arcturus, low in the West. The brightest evening star is white-blue Vega, nearly overhead. In the first week and last week of September (when there is no bright early evening moonlight), the Milky Way can be seen as a ghostly arch running from the Northeast across the top of the sky down into the Southwest.

       Frostburg State University has a new planetarium facility in our new Technology building (CCIT). Our public presentations will be each September Sunday with showings at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. (Sundays are September 7, 14, 21 and 28.) The name of our facility is the MLC ( for Multimedia Learning Center) in room 186 of the CCIT.  To assure the best experience for our audience, seating will be by free tickets, which will be given out 20 minutes ahead of the above times. Once the last ticket is given out (70) , no more will be admitted.  Please arrive at least 20 minutes early. Upon arriving, go to the FSU Clock Tower, which is near the Lane University Center. Near the clock tower is the entrance to the CCIT, that leads to the Planetarium or MLC. Our program for September is “Dark of the Moon”, about our place in the universe and the coming total lunar eclipse early in the evening of October 8. Our planetarium presentation will be followed by a tour of the Science Discovery Center in the nearby Compton Science Center.