Garrett County Skies

By Dr. Bob Doyle, Frostburg State Planetarium


SUN & MOON IN MAY: This month, the sun is front of the stars of Taurus. So the star group Gemini can be seen low in the western dusk during May.  At the start of May, Oakland sunrises are about 6:18 a.m. and sunsets are about 8:10 p.m. In late May, sunrises are about 5:51 a.m. with sunsets about 8:36 p.m. So the amount of daily sunlight increases by about 0.9 hours in May. The sunís mid day height increases from 64 degrees to 70 degrees during May. At the start of May, the moon is a fat crescent in the predawn sky. The moon swings from the morning to the evening side of the sun on May 6 (New Moon). The evening moon grows to half full on May 13. The second weekend of May will offer the best viewing of the lunar surface features through telescopes or binoculars. On May 14, the moon will appear close to the planet Jupiter. The moon will be full on the evening of May 21, appearing about 6 degrees from the planet Mars. On the next evening, the moon will be close to the planet Saturn. The moon will appear half full in the southern dawn sky on May 29.

THE PLANETS IN MAY: On May 9, the planet Mercury will pass in front of the sun, being entirely within the sunís disk from about 7:20 a.m. till about 2:36 p.m. The simplest and safest way to detect Mercury (as a tiny black dot on the sunís fiery disk) is to project the sunís image with a small reflecting (mirror) telescope onto a white card. WARNING: Any attempt to view this event by looking at the sun directly will result in permanent blindness! Most reflecting telescopes will  throw the sunís image to the side where a white card can be held. To aim such a telescope safely at the sun, note the shadow of the telescope on ground; when the shadow is smallest and round, the telescope is aimed at the sun. Then you hold a white card to the side of the eyepiece (where you would look if the telescope were aimed a night sky object). Adjust the eyepiece focus until you see the sunís round image as a sharp disk. Mercuryís black dot will be only 1/158 as wide as the sunís image. There may be sunspots visible at the same time. But sunspots have irregular boundaries, not sharp as Mercuryís dot.  Venus is at too low an angle to the sun in May to be seen. The planet Mars greatly improves in visibility in May. At the start of May, Mars rises in the Southeast about 10:15 p.m. The Earth is catching up to Mars, so each week Mars is rising about 40 minutes earlier. By May 22, Mars will appear opposite the sun and will be visible all through the night. Mars will be closest to the Earth on May 30 when the orange planet will be 47 million miles away (4.2 light minutes). Mars in late May will be nearly as bright as the planet Jupiter. The planet Jupiter is prominent in the southern evening sky in May. The planet Saturn appears to the left or East of Mars in May. When Mars is at its brightest, Saturn is rather subdued, being only about 1/6 as bright. During summer evenings, Saturn will be higher above the horizon, offering good views of its rings through modest telescopes.

BEST STARS AND GROUPS IN MAY: The Big Dipper is high in the North and upside down. The two leftmost stars of its scoop point down and right to the North Star. There is an arch of bright stars in the western twilight. From left to right, the arch stars are Procyon, Pollux and Castor (of Gemini) and golden Capella, If you extend the Big Dipperís handle outward, you arc to the orange star Arcturus. Low in the southeast is the pinkish star Antares, about the same hue as the planet Mars.  Higher in the Northeast is the white-blue star Vega, the first summer evening star to appear.

SPRING ASTRONOMY DAY IS MAY 14 FOR AMATEUR ASTRONOMERS IN AMERICA. At Frostburg State University, there will be a free public planetarium program at 8 p.m. The Planetarium is in room 186 of the Gira Center. If the weather permits, there will be telescopes set up outside to view the moon and Jupiter.  For a map, on the web go to .