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. On December 18 , the sun moves into Sagittarius where it stays until January 19. (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 morning  moon (waning)  is  2/3rds full, shrinking to half full on December 3. The moon will appear close to the planet Mars in the predawn sky of December 6th. The crescent moon will appear above Venus at dawn on December 7 and below Venus on December 8.  The moon will swing from the morning to the evening side of the sun on December 11th.  On December 14,  a slender crescent moon may be seen in the southwestern dusk. The nearly full moon will appear near the bright star Aldebaran on the evening of December 23rd.  The moon will be full on the morning of December 25, so Santa will have a bright evening moon to assist him with hia deliveries on Christmas eve. For the rest of December, the moon will steadily narrow, appearing near the planet Jupiter on New Year’s eve in the late 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 may be seen low in the southwest dusk. Look about 40 minutes before the sun sets. Venus (East) and Mars (Southeast)  may be seen for several hours before sunrise. Jupiter can be seen in the late evening sky in the East as well as in the predawn sky

in the South.

     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. on December 6, 13 & 20 (all Sundays). The program is “Wonders of the Winter Skies”, lasting about 45 minutes. These programs are live and allow for questions during the program. 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.)