Garrett County Skies

By Dr. Bob Doyle, Frostburg State Planetarium

  Moon Events:  Moon – Jupiter on 7th, Full on 10th, Moon-Venus on 22nd and Jupiter eclipses

SUN AND MOON:  On May 1, Oakland’s sunrise is at 6:19 a.m. with sunset at 8:10 p.m. Sunlight that day lasts 13 hrs. and 51 min. In mid-May sunrises are about 6:05 a.m. with sunsets about 8:25 p.m. The sun peaks at about 70 degrees altitude in the South about 1:15 p.m.  Sunlight then lasts 14 hrs. and  20 min. On May 31, sunrise is at 5:53 a.m. with sunset at 8:37 p.m. Daylight is then 14 hrs. and 44 min. So the increase in daily sunlight during May is 53 minutes.

     May opens with the moon as a crescent in the western dusk. On May 2, the evening moon appears half full, resembling a tilted letter ‘D’. Along the lighted left of the moon, the sun there is rising, lighting up the raised crater rims and elevations. So early May is best for spotting the moon’s surface features with binoculars or a telescope. On May 7, the moon will appear above the bright planet Jupiter. On May 10, the moon is full, rising about sunset and hanging in the sky all through the night. In May, the moon after full rises about 50 minutes each night so by May 15, the moon will be rising after midnight. On May 19, the moon will appear half full (like a reversed ‘D’) in the southern dawn. On May 22, the crescent moon will appear below the brilliant planet Venus in the southeastern dawn. On May 25, the moon will swing from the morning to the evening side of the sun.  After May 26, a  crescent moon will be seen in the western dusk. 

PLANETS IN MAY: The bright planet Jupiter is the brightest point of light in the evening sky, appearing in the Southeast. Mars can only be seen with difficulty low in the western dusk, The ringed planet Saturn rises in the early A.M. hours and is best viewed in the South at dawn.  The brilliant planet Venus rises a few hours before sunrise and is the ‘jewel’ of the dawn. Mercury may be seen low in the Eastern dawn in mid-May when it reaches its greatest angle to the sun.

  This May is unusual as several double moon eclipses of Jupiter can be seen with medium sized telescopes. Jupiter has four large moons comparable in size to our moon. Because of Jupiter’s great mass (318 x Earth’s), these moons revolve rather rapidly around Jupiter, in periods from 1.5 days to 16 days. These moons lie in a narrow plane aligned with Jupiter’s orbit. So eclipses of the sun (as seen in Jupiter’s cloud tops) are fairly frequent. But this May, we have a number of double moon eclipses that can be seen with medium sized telescopes (4 inches and larger front lenses or mirrors). These eclipses will be seen as small black dots on Jupiter’s disk. The first double eclipse will be about 10 p.m. on May 11 at 10 p.m. The second double eclipse will be on Thursday, May 18 just before midnight. The third double eclipse will be about 2 a.m. on Friday, May 26.

     In the May evening sky, the summer’s groups and bright stars start to appear, spring stars are still prominent and the winter stars are almost gone. Low in the Western dusk is an arch of bright winter stars.  From left to right, the stars are  Procyon, Pollux and Castor (of Gemini) and golden Capella. In the North, the Big Dipper’s handle can be extended outward to the bright orange star Arcturus, high in the sky.  High is the South is Leo, the Lion with its sickle of stars on the right, followed by a trailing triangle. On moonless nights, the dull glow of the Milky Way may be seen in the East late in the evening.  Vega, the brightest summer evening star can be seen in the Northeast.

     The Frostburg State Planetarium will have a free public show on Saturday, May 6 at 8 p.m. Featured will be a showing of the full dome movie, “Dynamic Earth”. The Planetarium is in room of 186 of the Gira Center, near the middle of the FSU campus.