By Dr. Bob Doyle, Frostburg State Planetarium

Garrett County Skies for December 2018

Winter Start and Full Moon within a day, Jupiter joins Venus in late December dawns, Mars in evening sky

December opens with a 7:18 a.m. sunrise and a 4:55 p.m. sunset. Daily sunlight then lasts 9.6 hours. During December, sunrises come a little bit later each day while sunset times scarcely change. Winter officially begins on December 21 when we have the least amount of sunlight at 9.4 hours. The sun then rises farthest South, has its lowest peak height in mid day and sets farthest South. On the Arctic Circle (latitude 66.5 North – just North of Iceland,) the sun just barely clears the Southern horizon at noon. December ends with an Oakland sunrise at 7:37 a.m. and sunrise at 5:03 p.m. Daily sunlight then lasts 9.4 hours.

In early December, the moon shrinks (wanes)  in the a.m. sky  , appearing as a slender crescent above the brilliant planet Venus on December 3 in the 6 a.m. southeastern dawn.  The moon’s motion carries it from the morning to the evening side of the sun on December 7 (New Moon). On December 14, the moon appears below the yellowish planet Mars in the southern evening sky. On December 15, the evening moon appears half full (like a ‘D’), offering the best views of its craters through a telescope. On the early morning of December 21, the moon appears near the bright orange star Aldebaran, marking the eye of Taurus, the Bull.

On December 22, the moon is full, rising about sunset and shining all through the night. At month’s end, the moon can only be seen in the a.m. sky, appearing half full on December 29 (like a reversed ‘D’) in the southern dawn.

The planet Mars is the only evening planet easily viewed, appearing in the Southwest in the early evening hours. The planet Venus is brilliant in the 6 a.m. eastern dawn. In late December, the bright planet Jupiter appears below and to the left of Venus.

The star group Orion with its belt of 3 stars in a row is striking in the southeastern evening sky. Orion’s belt points upward and to the right to Aldebaran, the brightest star of Taurus. Beyond Aldebaran is the Pleiades or 7 Sisters star cluster. In the North, the Big Dipper appears to be standing on its handle. High in the northern evening sky is Cassiopeia, whose 5 bright stars form a ‘M’. Low in the Northwest is the star group Cygnus, whose brighter stars form a cross standing upright over the horizon.

Now available is my 2 page 2019 Night Sky Highlights. ‘Highlights’ lists the principal phases of the moon, when and in what direction the bright planets can be seen, the dates when the moon passes the bright planets, and the times of Oakland’s sunrise and sunset for every Sunday in 2019. One special event is the lunar eclipse that occurs around midnight on January 20 – 21. You can get a free copy of 2019 Highlights by requesting it by email from .  (No copies sent through U.S. mail.) But you are free to copy the 2019 highlights for any friends who don’t have internet service.

I am resuming my portable planetarium visits to primary and middle schools in the Tri-State area. This is a new digital facility which I purchased with my own funds. There is a modest charge for transportation based on distance traveled. I need to have audiences of a minimum of 80 people (includes teachers, interns, chaperones) at each school. There is a maximum of 30 people per program. The 16 feet wide dome is handicapped accessible. A wheelchair can be rolled under the dome. I encourage some teachers to bring a folding chair for sitting. Foam seating pads will be provided for each student. Programs will last 30 minutes. I can do up to 4 programs in the morning and up to 3 programs in the afternoon. Most programs will consider the evening sky with close up views of the planets then in view.  I am available most weekdays and must be contacted through my email . Because of the weight of the facility, I must have custodial help in setting up and packing up. An adult must be in the dome with the students. If I can’t accommodate all interested classes, a second visit to that school is possible. If a school arranges a visit, I have a number of handouts that I will send electronically to the school secretary for distribution to the teachers.