GARRETT COUNTY SKIES
By Dr. Bob Doyle, Frostburg State Planetarium

Garrett County Skies for August 2019

Two biggest planets in Southern evening sky which moon passes by, Perseid meteor shower on Aug. 12

          August opens with a 5:10 a.m. Oakland dawn,  Sunrise at 6:17 a.m., mid day at 1:24 p.m. (sun highest), sunset at 8:31 p.m. and dusk ending at 9:38 p.m. Sunlight that day lasts 14 hrs. and 14 min. In early August, the sun is in Cancer. The end of August has dawn beginning at 5:44 a.m., sunrise at 6:44 a.m., mid day at 1:18 p.m., sunset at 7:52 p.m., and dusk ending at 8:52 p.m.  Sunlight that day lasts 13 hrs. and 7 min. In late August, the sun appears in Leo.

        On July’s last day, the moon shifted from the morning to the evening side of the sun. On August 2, a very slender moon may be seen low in the western dusk. On August 3, the moon will be easier to spot with its night side dimly lit by the nearly full Earth (as seen from the moon). If it’s clear, you can see the grey patches or lava plains there with binoculars. If you were on the moon then, Earthlight would be strong enough to read the headlines of the Oakland Republican there.  On August 9, the evening moon will appear close to the bright planet Jupiter. On August 11, the moon will appear to the right of the planet Saturn. Both of these giant planets will appear as steadily shining points. Binoculars held steadily may allow you to see Jupiter’s big moon as tiny points of light next to the planet. A modest telescope magnifying 40 x will reveal Saturn’s rings, made up of a huge collection of ice coated rocks orbiting Saturn. The moon will grow to full on August 15, rising about sunset and hanging in the sky all through the night. Summer full moons have a low track across the night sky as they occupy the same region of the zodiac as the winter sun.

        On the evening of August 12 and in the following a.m. morning, the Perseid meteor shower peaks. A meteor shower occurs when the Earth plows through the orbit of a comet. Comets are the litter bugs of the solar system; they are space icebergs filled with small pieces of grit. As a comet nears the sun, the ices start to sublime (turn to steam) and the embedded grit is left behind along the comet’s orbit. So when the Earth returns to the same comet’s orbit each year, it collides with this grit, moving at high speed. Most of the grit is pea sized and it flames out in the upper atmosphere in a matter of a second or two. This meteors in this shower can be traced back to the star group Perseus in the northern sky.

         But the meteors may be seen in nearly all directions. The Perseid shower may have an average of a meteor every minute.  In past centuries, this meteor shower matched the feast day of the Christian martyr, St. Laurence. So these meteors were known as the tears of St. Laurence, The best way to see the most meteors is to spread a blanket on soft ground and lie on your back; in that way, you can easily turn your head to see any of the meteors. Observing the meteors will be harder in the evening hours when the moon is lighting up the sky; after midnight, the moon will be lower and the meteors will be more vivid. In the morning hours, the meteors are striking the Earth nearly head on and will be brighter.

      A nice monthly evening star chart can be printed out by going to www.skymaps.com/download.html .

Any space questions? I would be happy to answer them if you send your questions to rdoyle@frostburg.edu .