Garrett County Skies

By Dr. Bob Doyle, Frostburg State Planetarium


     Sun and Moon this month As January begins, the Sun appears in front of the stars of Sagittarius appearing to drift a degree a day eastward relative to the stars. On January 20 , the sun moves into Capricornus where it stays until February 16. (These times correspond to the actual star group boundaries, not the dates of the Astrological signs.)  Both these star groups will be lost in the sun’s glare in January.  At dusk, the star group Aquarius may be seen low in the Southwest. The best zodiac group seen on January evenings is Gemini, in the East. On January dawns, the star group Scorpius may be seen low in the southeast. Prominent zodiac groups seen in the January predawn skies are Leo and Virgo. In early January, sunrises in Oakland are about 7:38 a.m. Sunsets are then about 5:05 p.m. (9:45 hours of daylight). Around the end of January, sunrises are around 7:25 a.m. while sunsets are about 5:38  p.m. (10.2  hours of daylight).. So during January, the brighter stars are last seen around 6:40 a.m.(early dawn) and then reappear about 6:20 p.m. (late dusk).

    In early January, the moon is full on the evening of January 4th, appearing in Gemini. The moon then has a high track across the night sky, being visible for 14 hours. On January 7th, the  moon appears near the bright planet Jupiter in the eastern sky. After January 11th, the moon will rise after midnight, and best viewed in the southern dawn sky. On January 15, the crescent moon appears near the planet Saturn in the southeastern dawn. On January 20, the moon swings from the morning to the evening side of the sun. On January 21, the crescent moon appears near the brilliant planet Venus in the southwestern dusk.  On the next evening, the moon will be near the planet Mars. On January 26, the evening moon appears half full. Along the left or straight edge of the moon, the sun there is rising, lighting up the crater rims and mountain ridges.   

January Planets  – The five nearest planets are easily seen by eye during a year, four of them shining steadily in contrast to the twinkling stars. (Mercury, only seen close to the horizon, may flicker.)  In the second week of January, the planets Mercury, Venus and Mars may be glimpsed low in the southwestern dusk. Look close to the horizon ½ hour after sunset. Venus will then be brilliant,  Mercury just underneath and Mars, much higher and to the right. Jupiter is very bright in the eastern evening sky. In early January, Saturn rises about 4:30 p.m., which changes to 2:45 p.m. at month’s end.

     Evening Stars this month – January is the month when the Big Dipper’s scoop can be seen low in the North Northeast during the evening hours. The two top scoop stars point left and up to the North Star. Orion is glorious in the Southeast with its belt stars pointing down and left to Sirius, the night’s brightest star. On the other side of the belt is Taurus, the Bull. The belt points up and to the right to Aldebaran, Taurus’ eye star and the 7 Sisters or Pleiades star cluster

    The Frostburg State Planetarium will resume its programs on February 1 with “Starflight: the Ultimate Adventure” with showings at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the New Technology building (CCIT) in room 186.  Presentations are free to the public and are shown at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. each Sunday in February.