Garrett County Skies

By Dr. Bob Doyle, Frostburg State Planetarium

   Full Moon on 10th,  Mars and Venusí last month together,  Jupiter creeps into late evening sky

SUN & MOON IN FEBRUARY Ė February opens with Oaklandís sunrise at 7:25 a.m. and sunset at 5:37 p.m.

Daylight then lasts 10.2 hours. The sun then crests in the South about 33 degrees altitude.  As February ends, Oaklandís sunrise is 6:52 a.m. with sunset at 6:08 p.m. Daylight then lasts 11.25 hours. The sun then crests in the South about 42 degrees altitude. For the first 15 days of February, the sun appears in front of Capricornus. Then on February 16, the sun moves into Aquarius. Both of these zodiac groups will be lost in the sunís glare during February.  At dusk, the star group Pisces may be seen low in the west.  At dawn, the star group Sagittarius appears low in the southeast. 

    On February 1, the crescent moon appears below the planet Mars in the western dusk. On February 4, the evening moon appears half full, with its sun facing side to the right and its night side on the left. Along the lighted straight edge of the moon, the sun there is rising, lighting up the crater rims and mountain peaks. February 2 through 6 are the best evenings to see lunar detail with binoculars or a telescope. On February 5, the moon will appear close to orange tinted Aldebaran, the eye star of Taurus. On the evening of February 10, the moon will appear fullest in the star group Cancer. On February 15, the moon will appear near the bright planet Jupiter in the late evening sky low in the East. On February 18, the moon will appear half full in the southern dawn sky. On February 20, the crescent moon will appear near the planet Saturn in the southeastern dawn. On February 26, the moon will shift from the morning to the evening side of the sun. On February 28, the crescent moon will appear below the brilliant planet Venus in the western dusk.


PLANETS IN FEBRUARY Ė Brilliant Venus and Mars (dull in comparison) spend their last month together in the western dusk. On February 18, Venus will be brightest in the evening sky.  In dark areas, Venus has cast shadows in the snow.  In March, Mars and Venus  will separate as Venus catches up to the Earth, passing North of the sun on March 25. From mid March through the first few days of April, Venus will be hidden in the sunís glare. Mars, on the far side of its orbit will stay in view in the western dusk for a few more months. The bright planet Jupiter is rising earlier each night.  By mid February, it will be seen low in the East in the last hour of the night. By the end of February, Jupiter appears  around 10:15 p.m. low in the East.  Saturn is visible in the southeastern dawn in February.  Saturnís angle to the sun is growing, causing it to appear higher each week in the dawn. In February, Mercuryís angle to the sun is too small for this rocky planet to be easily seen. Wait till late March when Mercury will be visible in the western dusk.   


BEST STARS & GROUPS IN FEBRUARY Ė Orion still dominates the southern evening sky. Orionís 7 brightest stars form a rectangle with three stars in a row in the middle of the rectangle. The three stars in a row (Orionís belt) point down and to the left to Sirius, the nightís brightest star. Sirius is also the nearest night star seen from this area, at a distance of 8.6 light years. Nearly overhead in the evening is the bright golden star Capella, seen on fall, winter and spring evenings. (As the Earth travels around the sun, the evening sky undergoes major changes each season. But Capella is so far north, that it stays above the horizon for most of the year.) The Big Dipper is easy to spot in the North with its two top bowl stars pointing left and down to the North Star, a modest star about half way up in the North.


     The Frostburg State Planetarium has resumed its free public programs each  Wednesdays at 6 & 7 p.m. The Planetarium is in room 186 of the Gira Center, near the middle of the Frostburg State campus.