Garrett County Skies

By Dr. Bob Doyle, Frostburg State Planetarium

     Sun and Moon this month Ė As April opens, the Sun appears in front of the stars of Pisces,  sliding  a degree a day eastward relative to the stars. Late on the evening of April 19th,  the sun enters the star group Aries, where it will stay through the early morning hours of May 14.  Both  Pisces and Aries  are nearly lost  in the Sunís glare in April. The star group Taurus  is to the East of  Aries so it may be seen low in the western dusk. The star group Aquarius is to the west of Pisces  so it rises ahead of the sun and may be seen low in the southeastern dawn.  In early April, sunrises in Oakland are about 7 a.m. while sunsets are about 7:45 p.m.(12.75 hours of daylight) Around the end of April. Oaklandís sunrises are about 6:20 a.m. and sunsets occur about 8:10  p.m. (13.8 hours of daylight).  In mid April, the stars are last seen around  5:40 a.m.( early dawn) and then reappear about 9 pm. (late dusk).

       April opens with the moon seen as a slender crescent in the western dusk (try 8:30 p.m.). On April 4, the crescent moon appears near the orange star Aldebaran, marking the eye of Taurus. On April 6 the moon appears to the left of the bright planet Jupiter. The evening moon appears half full on April 7. About  a week into April, the moon is at its best for spotting the craters with binoculars held steadily or a telescope. Along the moonís left edge (appears straight), the sun there is rising, lighting up the crater rims and mountain peaks. Even in the late afternoon, you can see lunar features in the  blue day sky. The dark patches easily seen by eye are vast lava plains, that donít reflect the sunís light as well as the whiter areas (where the craters are concentrated). On the evening of April 14, the moon appears near the planet Mars. The moon is full on April 15.  In the early morning hours of April 15th, there is a total lunar eclipse where the moon glides through the Earthís shadow . The left edge of moon starts to enter the Earthís deep shadow (umbra) about 1:48 a.m. At 3:06 a.m. the moon. is entirely in the Earthís shadow. Mid eclipse is at 3:46 a.m. The left edge of the moon  begins to break free of the moonís shadow at 4:25 a.m. At 5:33 a.m. the eclipse is basically over as the moon has moved out of the Earthís deep shadow. The color of the moon in mid eclipse can vary from a dull grey to orange or rarely red. The light reaching the moon then has come around the edge of the Earth. The presence of clouds or dust there determines  the color of the eclipsed moon. (The next lunar eclipse will be in the early evening on October 8.) Late on the evening of April 17, the moon appears near the planet Saturn. On April 21,  the moon appear half full in the southern dawn sky. On the morning of April 26, the crescent moon appears near the brilliant planet Venus (try 5:30 a.m.)  The moon shifts from the morning to the evening side of the sun on April 29. On the last day of April, the moon appears as a slender 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, usually at a low angle to the sun and very close to the horizon. In April, Mercury is at too low an angle to the sun to be easily viewed. Late May offers much better  views of Mercury in the western dusk. The bright planet Jupiter appears in the Southwest  at dusk. Jupiterís setting time during April drops from  3 a.m. to 1:15 a.m. April is Marsí month as our neighbor world appears opposite the sun on April 8, rising at dusk  and visible all night long . On April 14, Mars is closest to the Earth at a distance of 57.4 million miles. During April, the planet Saturn creeps into evening sky. At the start of April,, Saturn is rising about 10:15  p.m.  As April ends, the ringed planet rises about 8:45 p.m. Best telescopic viewing of Saturnís rings will be in the early a.m. hours, when Saturn is high in the South. During April, the brilliant planet Venus dominates the eastern dawn, rising about 2 hours ahead of the sun.

     Evening Stars this month Ė On April evenings, Orion with his three star belt can still be seen in the southwest in the early evening. The belt points left  to Sirius, the night's brightest star.  Jupiter appears above Orion.  To the right of Jupiter  is the bright golden star Capella. By late evening, Orion will be in the tree tops. The Big Dipper is high in the North and upside down. The two leftmost stars of the scoop points left and down to the North Star, a modest star about half way up in the North. If you extend the Big Dipperís handle outward, you come to Arcturus, a bright orange star, the brightest evening star of spring. High in the South is Leo, the Lion. The stars on the right side of Leo form a sickle with the bright star Regulus at the bottom.   

         The Cumberland Astronomy Club will meet on Friday, April 18  at 7:30 p.m. at the LaVale Public Library, just off the National Highway (Route 40). All interested sky gazers are welcome.