By Dr. Bob Doyle, Frostburg State Planetarium

Garrett County Skies for January 2018 by Bob Doyle, Emeritus, Frostburg State University

Orion Stunning in SE Evening Sky, Moon Encounters Jupiter & Mars, Jan.31 ‘Blue Moon’

As the year opens, Oakland’s sunrise is at 7:38 a.m. with sunset at 5:04 p.m. Each day sunsets are about a minute later while sunrises fall back more slowly. At the end of January, sunset is at 7:26 a.m. while sunset is 5:36 p.m. January has a gain of 44 minutes in daily sunlight (comparing the beginning to the end of the month.) The above times are for a level horizon. Considering houses, trees, hills and hollows, your daily sunlight may be typically a half hour less.

Orion, the brightest star group is now on display for nearly the entire evening. Orion has two very bright stars, one pink and one white-blue on opposite corners of the figure. But the most striking feature of Orion is his belt of three moderately bright stars in a row. Orion’s concentration of bright stars are due to Orion lying in the direction of a spur off one of our galaxy’s spiral arm. Orion also provides a guide to nearby bright stars. A line from Orion’s white blue star Rigel through the pinkish star Betelgeuse will take you to the Gemini star group. Gemini is the most northerly zodiac group; the sun appears in front of Gemini at the start of summer. Orion’s belt stars if extended down and to the left points to Sirius, the night’s brightest star. You may have to wait an extra hour before Sirius becomes visible. But when low, Sirius sparkles in all the colors of the rainbow due to the bending of its light by our atmosphere. Above and to the left of Sirius is Procyon, a bright white-yellow star. Orion’s belt extended upward and to the right goes to Aldebaran, a bright orange star in the eye of the Bull. The 5 bright stars mentioned above (Procyon, Sirius, Betelgeuse, Rigel and Aldebaran) form a tilted letter ‘W’. This ‘W’ will be in view all through the winter season in the evening sky.

January opens with a full moon. This full moon has the highest sky path of any full moon, being in view for 14 hours. Eskimos use the winter full moons to hunt seals. In a week, the moon has retreated into the morning or A.M. sky. On January 8, the moon appears half full in the southern dawn. On January 11, the crescent moon will appear to the left of the bright planet Jupiter and Mars in the southeastern dawn. On January 16, the moon will swing from the morning to the evening side of the sun. The last 12 days of January will feature evening moonlight. On January 24, the evening moon will appear half full, offering good views of the moon’s craters with telescopes. For along the straight edge of the moon, the sun there is rising, lighting up the crater rims and lunar ridges. On January 31, there will be another full moon. This second full moon of the month is termed a ‘blue moon’. We can have two full moons in a month if the month is 30 or more days in length and if the month starts with a full moon. ‘Blue moons’ typically occur once every 3 years.

To get a free electronic copy of my 2 page 2018 Night Sky Guide, please send an email to [email protected] .This Sky Guide lists the dates of all the moon’s main phases, the moon-planet encounters, the dates when the sun enters each of the astronomical star groups and the dates when the bright planets can be seen at dusk, dawn and during the night. On the back are the Sunday sunrise and sunset times for Cumberland, Morgantown, Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Harrisburg, Hagerstown and Baltimore.