Garrett County Skies

By Dr. Bob Doyle, Frostburg State Planetarium


  Sun and Moon this month – As August begins, the Sun appears in front of the stars of Cancer, drifting a degree a day eastward relative to the stars. The sun moves into the star group Leo in the afternoon hours of August 10th, where it stays until the evening hours of September 16th. (These dates correspond to the actual star group boundaries, not the dates of the Astrological signs.)  The star group Virgo can be seen low in the western dusk. On  the other side of the sun is the star group Gemini, appearing in the eastern dawn sky. In early August, sunrises in Oakland are about 6:20 a.m. while sunsets are about 8:25 p.m. (14.1 hours of daylight). Around the end of August, Oakland’s sunrises are about 6:50 a.m. and sunsets occur about 7:53 p.m. (13 hours of daylight). So during August, the brighter stars are last seen around 5:30 a.m.(early dawn) and then reappear about 9:15 p.m. (late dusk).

       On the first evening of August, the moon is a crescent shining in Virgo On August 3rd, the moon appears half full, with the planet Mars nearby. On the next evening, the moon is close to the planet Saturn.

 As the lunar orbital period is 27.3 days, we can expect these moon-planet line ups to repeat at the end of August. The moon grows to full on the evening of August 10; the moon then appears above the main stars of Capricornus. The full moon rises about the time of sunset and sets about the time of sunrise the following morning. Each night after the full moon, the moon rises about 40 minutes later, so by August 17, the moon will be rising about midnight. The moon will then appear half full; the best moon viewing will be in the predawn sky in the South. In the eastern sky before dawn on the 23rd, the crescent moon will appear near the brilliant planet Venus and the bright planet Jupiter. F On August 25. the moon swings from the morning side of the sun to the evening side (New Moon).  On the last day of August, a slender crescent moon will appear low in the southwest, near both Mars and Saturn. oin the southern dawn.phase cycle is 29.5 days, there will be another full moon on the last day of August. A second full moon in a month is called a ‘blue moon’, occurring about once every three years.  After the early full moon in August, the moon rises about a half hour later each night. By August 9th, the moon won’t be rising till after midnight, having passed out of the evening sky. On August 11th and 12th, the crescent moon appears near the bright planet Jupiter in the southern dawn. On August 13th and 14th, the crescent moon appears near the brilliant planet Venus in the southeastern dawn. After August 16th, the moon disappears in the sun’s glow, reappearing low in the western dusk on August 20th.  On the next evening, the moon appears near the bright star Spica, the planets Mars and Saturn in the 8:45 p.m. western dusk. (Saturn is highest, Mars farthest to the left and Spica nearest the moon.) The evening moon appears half full on the evening of August 24th, then appearing near the claws and head of the Scorpion. As the month ends, the second full moon appears near the western edge of Aquarius. 

      The early morning hours of August 13th will be a good occasion to spot the Perseid Meteor Shower. A meteor shower occurs when the Earth plows through a comet’s orbit, littered with grit. As this grit hurtles towards the Earth, it is incinerated in the Earth’s upper atmosphere as meteors or shooting stars. This meteor shower is named for the star group Perseus, from which the meteors can be traced back . Early morning hours are best for spotting meteors as they then collide with the Earth head on. As many as sixty meteors may be seen per hour.

August Planets  – The five nearest planets are easily seen by eye during the year, four of them shining steadily in contrast to the twinkling stars. (Mercury, only seen close to the horizon, may flicker as heat currents move in front of it.)  Mars and Saturn can be seen low in the early evening western sky. Well above Saturn is the bright golden star Arcturus. In August, the very bright planet Jupiter is prominent in the southern dawn sky. Below and to the left of Jupiter is the planet Venus .

 August Evening Stars – The Big Dipper is about halfway up in the North Northwest. The two bottom stars of the scoop point rightward to the North Star, a modest star about half way up in the North.  Follow the Big Dipper’s handle outward to the bright golden star Arcturus. Further along this same arch is the white-blue star Spica and the planet Mars . In The bright white-blue star Vega in the South is the brightest star of the Summer Triangle, passing nearly overhead. On dark, moonless nights the Milky Way can be seen as dull glow running across the eastern side of the Summer Triangle.

     After nearly three years, our public Planetarium programs will again be offered on Sunday, September 7  at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Our new facility is called the MLC (Multi-media Learning Center) with a tilted dome and twice as many seats as in the old Tawes Hall Planetarium. Our September program is “Dark of the Moon”, covering the lunar eclipse at dusk on October 8. The MLC is on the first floor of the new CCIT building erected in the same area as Tawes Hall (which was demolished in 2012). Please arrive 15 minutes early as we expect a large initial audience and seating is limited.  Seating is by tickets marked by row and number. To receive a planetarium program schedule, call (301) 687-7799 and slowly state your name and mailing address.