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

Resources for Primary School Teachers

Fall (Oct. - Dec.) 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 diameters 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.

Fall 2014 Sky Sights (October, November & December) for Middle School Students

In late October, Venus passes in back of the sun. You will have to wait till late December to view Venus in the southwestern sky at dusk. The bright planet Jupiter can be seen low in the East on late fall evenings. On December 12th, the moon pairs off with Jupiter in the eastern evening sky. In December, the star group Orion becomes prominent low in the southeastern evening sky. Orion's trademark is his three star belt (equally spaced). A line across Orion (from foot to shoulder) shows us the way to Gemini, a rectangular star group. The two best fall meteor showers, are the Leonids on November 17th and Geminids in December 12th. Most meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through a comet's orbit littered with comet grit. These two meteor showers get their names from the star groups from which the meteors seem to stream from.

As the fall months go by, the Big Dipper passes beneath the North Star; it's bowl begins to appear low in the North Northeast. At the same time, Cassiopeia crests high in the North and then begins its descent in the North Northwest. Cassiopeia's five brightest stars resemble the letter 'M'. Each Sunday from early September through mid December, there will be free public planetarium programs at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on the ground floor of the new Technology building at Frostburg State. The programs change monthly; please arrive early to be assured of a good seat (72 in all).

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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