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Sky Report -Jan to December 2010

Best Evening Sights for 2010:

  • Mars in Winter,
  • Venus in Spring & Summer and
  • Jupiter in Fall

has two special events:  Earth is closest to sun on 2nd and Mars closest on the 27th.

The Earth’s orbit is slightly oval shaped; we pull within 91.4 million miles of the sun on January 2nd and then draw away to a solar distance of 94.5 million miles on July 6th. This variation  of 3% in solar distance is overwhelmed by the effects caused by our titled axis. In early summer,  our part of the world is most strongly tipped towards the sun, resulting in a high sun and nearly 15 sunlit hours per day. In early winter, our region leans away from the sun; this results in a low midday sun and only 10 hours of sunlight per day. The approach of Mars to the Earth on January 27th is a distance of nearly 62 million miles. This distance is nearly twice as far as the closest Earth-Mars distance of 35 million miles. Every 17 Earth years,  the Earth and Mars have a very good approach near the above minimum distance. The last close Mars approach was in 2003, so we have another 10 years to wait till 2020 (2010 +10 = 2020). To be sure of sighting Mars, look for a yellow, steady point of light in the East in the late evening sky. Mars lies in front of Cancer, a patchwork pattern of dim stars.

February ’10 is the month when Orion is highest in prime evening time. Orion’s most distinctive feature  is his belt of three stars in a row. Above the belt is the bright pinkish star Betelgeuse; below the belt is the white-blue star Rigel. But the most striking star is Sirius, a star that sparkles in all the colors of the rainbow. Orion’s belt points left and down to Sirius. Sirius is our night sky’s closest star (we can see) and also the brightest night star seen by most of humanity. (Above the Arctic Circle, Sirius never clears the horizon.)

March ‘10 has the planet Saturn appearing  low in the eastern evening sky, being closest to the Earth on March 21st. The planet Venus in the early evening dusk begins to shine low in the West, as its setting time following sunset increases from an hour in early March to 90 minutes at March’s end.

April ’10  In early April, the planets Venus and Mercury appear close together. Venus is dozens of times brighter than Mercury so a pair of binoculars will be helpful in spotting this small sun baked world. Saturn is then high in the late evening, best for telescopic viewing of the ice rings of this giant world. The plane of Saturn’s rings are still at a low angle to us, so Saturn’s rings will appear very slender.

May ‘10  Venus climbs higher into western dusk as its setting time following sunset has grown to two and a half hours after sunset. In the late evening hours, the planet Saturn peaks in the South. In late May, the planet Mercury reaches its greatest angle from the sun low in the eastern dawn in late May and early June, rising an hour ahead of the sun.

June ’10  Venus continues to dominate the southwestern early evening sky. The dimmer planet Saturn shines steadily in the South. The Milky Way on moonless evenings, glows gently in the late evening sky. Look low in the South in the late evening for the “J” shaped star group Scorpius.

July ’10  In late July, the planet Mercury reappears low in the southeastern sky. One can begin to see the coming convergence of the planets Mars, Saturn and Venus. Low in the South evening sky shines the star group Sagittarius whose brightest stars form an old fashioned tea kettle.

August ‘10  Low in the western dusk, the planet Mercury can be seen in early August. On August 7th, the planet Saturn appears above the brilliant planet Venus. Then 11 days later, the planet Mars appears above Venus. Venus is now setting less than two hours after sunset due to its motion into the southern zodiac groups.

September ‘10  As Venus continues to drop lower in the dusk, the bright planet Jupiter appears low in the East. On September 20th, the very bright planet Jupiter and the dim planet Uranus rise as the sun sets. On September 22nd, the Harvest Moon shines all through the night, offering extra evening moonlight the following four evenings. In late September the planet Mercury can be seen low in the eastern dawn sky.

October ’10  Jupiter dominates the evening sky with Venus and Saturn too close to the sun to be seen.  The dull planet Mars is barely visible low in the West, setting a little over an hour after sunset. Once again, the moon is full on 22nd. This full moon is Hunters’ Moon, with extra evening moonlight for the next few nights.

November ’10  Mercury can be seen in late November and early December, shining low in the southwest.
On November 20th, the planets Mars and Mercury appear 3 moon widths apart. The 7 Sisters or Pleiades are striking in the eastern evening sky while Jupiter is high in the South in late evening.

December ’10  December is Orion’s month to reappear in the East. Orion’s belt points up to the bright star Aldebaran and beyond to the 7 Sisters star cluster.  

The Frostburg State Planetarium has Sunday programs during the school months from January to the following December. There are no public programs in June, July and August. Sunday shows are at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Our programs are in Tawes 302, close by the Performing Arts Center and the Compton Science Center.

The Planetarium is in Tawes Hall, near the FSU Clock Tower and across the street from the Compton Science Center. There is convenient free parking, nearby parking for the less mobile and a ramp.    

By Dr. Bob Doyle

To contact Dr. Doyle, his mailing address is Planetarium, Frostburg State University, Frostburg, MD 21532 or by email at rdoyle@frostburg.edu.









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