Garrett County Skies

By Dr. Bob Doyle, Frostburg State Planetarium



Sun and Moon:  Until February 16, the sun appears in front of Capricornus (Sea Goat). Our star then enters Aquarius on February 17 where it stays until March 11. The sun’s position in February causes both Capricornus and Aquarius to be lost in the sun’s glare. In early February, Oakland sunrises are about 7:30 a.m.  while sunsets are about 5:40 p.m. By the end of February, sunrises will be about 7 a.m. with sunsets about 6:05 p.m.  (The above times are for flat horizons. If you live in a hollow, add up to a half hour to sunrise and subtract up to a half hour for sunsets. All the while, both sunrises and sunsets are changing about a minute each day.)


February opens with the moon half full in the southern dawn sky. It will then appear close to the orange planet Mars. As the moon glides eastward along its orbit, its lighted portion will shrink to a narrower crescent. In the 6:15 a.m. southeastern dawn on February 7, the crescent moon will appear to the left of the brilliant Venus. A few days later, the moon will swing from the morning to the evening side of the sun. After February 10, the crescent moon will be seen low in the southwestern dusk. The evening moon will grow to half full on February 15. By February 22, the moon  grows to full among  the stars of Taurus. The full moon rises as the sun sets, hangs in the sky all night long and  then sets at sunrise. On February 23, the moon will appear close to the bright planet Jupiter all through the night. On the leap year night (February 29), the moon will appear near the planet Mars.


February 2016 Planets: During February, Jupiter’s rising time in the East drops from 9 p.m. to 7 p.m. Jupiter appears as a bright steady point, shining brighter than any of the night stars. Mars rises in the second hour of the night (1 – 2 a.m.), Saturn rises in the fourth hour of the night (3 – 4 a.m.) and intensely bright Venus rises two hours before sunrises. In early February, the dull planet Mercury appears near brilliant Venus.


February Evening Stars: In the North, the Big Dipper stands on its handle with its two top stars pointing left to the North Star, a modest star halfway from the horizon to the top of the sky. In the East, Leo’s starry sickle stands out , with the bright star Regulus at the bottom of the sickle.  Still prominent in the South is Orion, with his three star belt pointing left and down to Sirius, the night’s brightest star.


Planetarium Reopens: The Frostburg State Planetarium resumes its free pubic programs in February. The February feature is “Hubble’s Greatest Hits” , displaying and explaining the best images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope .  The Planetarium is in Room 186 of the Gira Center, near the Frostburg State Clock Tower. Presentations are each February Wednesday at 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. There is an additional Saturday presentation at 5 p.m. on February 13.  At 4 p.m. on February 13, the Science Discovery Center on the first lobby of the Compton Science Hall will open with an awesome display of mammals from 5 continents.  There is a touch table for youngsters. Bring a camera as the animals are always posing.