Garrett County Skies

By Dr. Bob Doyle, Frostburg State Planetarium

               Jupiter Prominent in East at Dusk while Venus blazes in Eastern Dawn

SUN & MOON:  At the start of April, Oakland sunrises are at 7:02 a.m. with sunsets at 7:41 p.m.  Daily sunlight is then 12 hrs. and 39 min. In mid April, the sun peaks at 60 degrees altitude in the South at mid day (1:18 p.m.)  On Aprilís last day, sunrise is at 6:20 a.m. with sunset at 8:09 p.m. Daily sunlight is then 13 hrs. and 49 min. So our daily serving of sunlight grows by 1 hr. and 10 min. during April.

    April starts with the moon in the evening sky, growing to half full (like a tilted ĎDí) on April 3. Along the moonís straight left edge, the sun is rising, lighting up the crater rims for optimal viewing through a telescope. The moon is full in the early morning hours of April 11, so the evening moon appears fullest on April 10. On that evening, the moon appears close to the bright planet Jupiter. By mid-April, the moon has left the evening sky, rising after midnight. On April 16, the morning moon appears above and to the left of the planet Saturn in the 5:30 a.m. southern dawn. On April 19, the moon appears half full in the southern dawn (like a reversed ĎDí). On April 23, the crescent moon appears near the brilliant planet Venus in the eastern dawn. The moon swings from the morning to the evening side of the sun on April 26 (New Moon). April ends with a slender crescent moon in the western dusk.

BRIGHT PLANETS:  On April 7, the bright planet Jupiter is closest to the Earth, rising about sunset and hanging in the sky all night long. Jupiter is then 415 million miles away, itís reflected light taking 37 minutes to reach the Earth. All through April Jupiter will be the brightest point of light in the eastern sky, outshining the brightest night stars. Binoculars held steadily will show Jupiterís big moons as tiny points of light close to the planet. A small telescope magnifying 40 or more times will show Jupiterís disk as a striped ball. The two visible stripes are atmospheric cloud belts that are parallel to Jupiterís equator. The brilliant planet Venus reappears in the eastern dawn sky, rising earlier each week as its angle to the sun grows. Venus is about 5 times as bright as Jupiter due to itís closeness to both the Earth and sun. The innermost planet Mercury is at its greatest angle to the sun in the western dusk on April 1. For about a week, Mercury may be seen low in the western dusk about 45 minutes after sunset.  Saturn is a morning object.  It is best seen about 5 a.m., then appearing in the South above the Scorpionís stinger. During the warm months of summer, Saturn will be well placed in the southern evening sky for telescopic views of its rings.

SPRING EVENINGíS BEST STARS AND GROUPS: The Big Dipper (7 stars) appears high in the North. It is then upside down, dumping its soup into the Little Dipper. If you make an arc with Dipperís handle and extend it outward, you will come to the bright orange star Arcturus, the brightest spring evening star. Go further along this arc and you will come to the bright planet Jupiter.  Near by Jupiter is the white-blue star Spica of Virgo. High in the West is the golden star Capella. Capella is actually a hold over from the winter, but its northerly position allows it to be seen in the evening in the fall, winter and spring seasons. At dusk, you can still see Orion, the Hunter. Orionís trademark is his belt of three stars in a row. These row stars point left to Sirius, the nightís brightest star and the closest night star seen from most of the United States.

      The Frostburg State Planetarium will have a public showing at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 1.  Then there will be Wednesday programs on April 12 and April 26 at 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. The main feature for these Wednesday programs is ďThe Seven Wonders of the Solar SystemĒ.  The Planetarium is in room 186 of the Gira Center near the middle of the FSU campus.