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Summer 2014
Sky Report: Middle Schools
by Dr. Bob Doyle, Portable Planetarium Teacher

Resources for Primary School Teachers

Summer (Jul. - Sep.) 2014 Middle School Sky Basics

On a clear night, you can see a dark sky, hundreds of near by stars, possibly our moon and perhaps a few planets (seen as bright steadily shining points). The night sky appears dark due to emptiness of space and the expansion of the universe. The night stars are distant suns whose light takes many years to travel to the Earth. These stars are likely still there as stars shine for million or billions of years.

The moon is our Earth's companion as we travel each year about the sun. The moon's visible shapes (phases) are due to the moon being lit by the sun as it orbits the Earth. The moon can be seen growing in lighted width in the evening sky for about a dozen days. The moon then appears full for an evening or two and then begins to shrink, spending just as much time shrinking in the morning sky as it did growing in the evening sky. Even the nearer planets are so far away compared to their distances that they appear as steady points in the sky. In order of brightness as seen from Earth, Venus is by far the brightest planet, with Jupiter in 2nd place.

Summer 2014 Sky Sights (July, August & September) for Middle School Students

The brightest evening star during the summer months is the bright orange star Arcturus. To find Arcturus, first locate the Big Dipper in the North Northeast. Extend the Dipper's handle outward about one dipper's length and you'll come to a bright orange star. This is Arcturus, a relatively nearby star at 42 years away. The light of Arcturus we see tonight left that star in 1972, 42 years ago. Many stars' light has been travelling Earthward for hundreds of years. The second brightest star is Vega, appearing about half way up in the East on early summer evenings. Vega shines with a white-blue light, owing to its higher surface temperature than our sun. Vega's light is twenty five years old, it's distance being 25 light years So Vega's light we see tonight left that star's surface in 1989. Vega is part of the star group Lyra. You can see Lyra as a small compact grouping of stars, mostly below Vega. At dawn in the summer months, you may glimpse a brilliant point of light low in the East that is far brighter than either Arcturus or Vega. This is our nearest planet neighbor Venus. Unlike the other planets, Venus always appears far brighter than any night star. When Venus is closest to the Earth, telescopes reveal a skinny but blazing crescent. When Venus is on the far side of her orbit, her entire daylight side shines at us. Another evening planet seen in the summer months is the planet Saturn. Saturn can be seen as a rather modest point of light on the western edge of Virgo. You can tell that Saturn is a planet from its steady light. A modest telescope magnifying 30 or more times will show Saturn's rings as ice coated boulders orbiting the planet in a very thin plane. The other evening planet is Mars, now on the far side of its orbit. Mars can be seen through the end of the year, slowly fading as it moves to away from Earth.In August, Jupiter rises ahead of the sun, appearing close to Venus in mid-August.

On dark, moonless nights far from city lights a ghostly glow can be seen running across the sky from the Northeast to the southern horizon. To see this glow, your eyes need to be dark adapted. (Avoid looking at any lights for about 3-5 minutes.) Your pupil (dark opening in the middle of your eye) through which light passes will expand from 3 to 7 millimeters, capturing five times more light. This glow is called the Milky Way, the concentration of stars along the central plane of our galaxy. Now the Milky Way 's light is due to the many millions of stars.lying along this central disk. But there is much dust along this central plane so most of the star light is blocked. (If we could sweep up all the dust along the central plane, the light of the Milky Way would be bright enough to read the large print of a newspaper outside at night.)

Our new technology building (the CCIT) will be opening for fall classes in late August. The building has a Multi-Media Learning Center, a tilted room with 80 seats. In the center of the MLC is a digital planetarium. Our Sunday programs will resume on September 7th with two shows at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Our programs in September is "Dark of the Moon", to alert us of the coming lunar eclipse on October 8th. The programs held are each Sunday through the month of September.

For additional information, contact:

Dr. Robert Doyle, Planetarium Director
Frostburg State University
Department of Physics and Engineering
101 Braddock Road
Frostburg, MD 21532-1099
(301) 687-4270





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