Garrett County Skies

By Dr. Bob Doyle, Frostburg State Planetarium


     Sun and Moon this month – As December begins, the Sun appears in front of the stars of Ophiuchus, appearing to drift a degree a day eastward relative to the stars. Around  December 18 , the sun moves into Sagittarius where it stays until January 18. (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 December.  At dusk, the star group Capricornus may be seen low in the Southwest. The best zodiac group seen on December evenings is Taurus, the Bull in the East. On December dawns, the star group Libra may be seen low in the southeast. Prominent zodiac groups seen in the December predawn skies are Leo and Virgo. In early December, sunrises in Oakland are about 7:20 a.m. Sunsets are then 4:55 p.m. (9:6 hours of daylight). On the first day of winter, December 21, the sun rises in Oakland at 7:34 a.m. and sets at 4:57 p.m.  This is the shortest amount of daylight for the years at 9:4 hours. Around the end of December, sunrises are around 7:38 a.m. while sunsets are about 5:05  p.m. (9.45  hours of daylight).. So during Decmber, the brighter stars are last seen around 6:30 a.m.(early dawn) and then reappear about 6 p.m. (late dusk).

       At the start of December, the evening moon is about 2/3rds full, growing to full at dawn on December 6. The moon will appear South of the planet Jupiter late in the evening of December 11 in the East. The moon appears half full in the southern dawn on December 14. On December 21, the moon swings from the morning to the evening side of the sun (New Moon). On Christmas, a slender crescent moon can be seen low in the southwestern dusk near the planet Mars. On December 28, the moon appears half full in the evening sky

December 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 late December, the planets Mercury, Venus and Mars may be glimpsed low in the southwestern dusk. Look close to the horizon ˝ hour after sunset. Venus will then be brilliant,  Mercury just underneath and Mars, much higher and to the right.

     Evening Stars this month - December is the month when the star group Orion appears low in the East in the evening sky. Orion's trademark is his belt of three stars in a row. The belt points upward to the bright orange star, Aldebaran of Taurus. Close to the top of the evening sky is the bright golden star Capella. High in the North is Cassiopeia, a group that resembles a flattened letter M.

    December Planetarium Presentations are held in the MLC (Multimedia Learning Center) in room 186 of our new Technology Building at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. each Sunday on December 7, 14 & 21.The Technology Building or CCIT was built on the same ground as Tawes Hall (demolished)  The closest parking area is near the Frampton building just off University Drive. You will be entering the Technology building on the second floor. So either come down a flight of steps or take an elevator down to the first floor. Room 186 is near the FSU Clock Tower. You will see the cylindrical wall of the MLC from both inside or outside the Technology building. Admission is free but no drinks, food, candy etc. are allowed. (A cooler is provided for those with such items.)  The December program is “The Heavenly Connection”, covering the Star of the Magi, the origin of Hannukah and the Muslim Calendar. The program is live and lasts about 40 minutes. Following a brief intermission following the 4 p.m. MLC program, visitors are invited to visit the Science Discovery Center in the Compton building, across the street from the Technology building. On display are over 100 preserved specimens from 5 different continents. Cameras are welcome as the animals are always posing.  Please arrive early as late comers are not admitted.