Garrett County Skies

By Dr. Bob Doyle, Frostburg State Planetarium

            Saturn only evening planet easily viewed, Perseid meteor showers night of August 12-13 and late full moon

   Early August – Oakland’s sunrises are about 6:20 a.m. while sunset times are about 8:30 p.m. (All the sunrise and sunset times in this column are for flat eastern and western horizons.  Valley dwellers may see the sun first appearing up to ˝ hour later  and the sun disappearing  up to ˝ hour earlier.) In the first few days of August, a nearly full moon may be seen in the early evening in the East. By August 5th, the moon is seen only in the last hour of the evening. The only evening planet is Saturn, seen in the southwest to the right of the Scorpion’s claws. Saturn appears as bright, steady point of light.  Higher in the West is the golden star Arcturus.  Arcturus can be found by extending the handle of the Big Dipper outward.  The brightest evening sky is white-blue Vega, nearly overhead. Vega is the brightest star of the huge Summer Triangle, whose longer sides point South. After August 5, the moon is rising after midnight, offering a good chance to see the Milky Way on clear evenings over the next two weeks. Give your eyes a few minutes to get used to the darkness; then you may see a delicate rippled glow stretching from the Northeast to top of sky and then into South. 

Mid August   Oakland’s sunrises are about 6:30 a.m. while sunset times about 8:15 p.m. (Later sunrises and earlier sunsets are for those living in low lying areas. High land folk may see the sunrises earlier and sunsets later.) The best time for the Perseid meteor shower is the late evening of August 12 and early morning of August 13. Perseid means “children of Perseus” as the meteors can be traced back to the northern part of Perseus, a hero from Greek mythology. The Perseids are seen when the Earth crosses the orbit of Comet Swift Tuttle.  When comets travel near the sun, the grit in their outer layers flake off  and continue to orbit the sun. So each year, when the Earth come to this part of its orbit, the Earth’s upper atmosphere is bombed by comet grit. Each piece of grit is incinerated by air friction many miles above our heads. Each grit’s fiery death is seen as a meteor or ‘shooting star’. Possibly several dozen meteors may be seen each hour in the middle of this night. If this night is cloudy, some meteors may be seen the night before or the night after. Another good meteor shower will be in mid December when the meteors will seem to come out of the star group Gemini (the Geminids).

Late August - Oakland’s sunrises are about 6:45 a.m. and sunsets about 8:35 p.m. After August 16, the crescent moon reappears in the western dusk. On August 22, the evening moon appears half full, resembling a tilted letter ‘D’. Along the moon’s lighted left edge, the craters and mountains there are thrown into sharp contrast as the sun’s rays strike them. Binoculars held steadily will reveal the larger craters and mountain ranges.  A tripod mounted telescope will show over a hundred craters at low power (30-50 X).  For a few days before and after August 22, the moon’s details will be almost as good. On August 29, the moon will be full, in front of the stars of Aquarius, the Water Carrier. When the moon is near full phase, there is little shadow on the moon. Few craters can then be seen. The most prominent lunar features then are the lunar Maria, huge lava fields that stretch over hundreds of miles.


There is one free August public Planetarium Program. It will be held  in Frostburg State’s Gira  building,  Room 186 on August 22 at 8 p.m. The program will last about 45 minutes, concluding with a full dome presentation.  Weather permitting, telescopes will be taken outside for observing the moon, Saturn and other sky sights after the program. The Gira building entrance closest to the Planetarium is by the FSU Clock Tower near the Lane University Center. Food, drinks, snacks and gum are not allowed in the Planetarium. There are rest rooms and water fountains just down the hall. Because the need for darkness for our presentations, late comers will not be admitted.  So please come early.