Teacher Resources

Beginner’s Guide to Sky Gazing in Fall '18

(Oct, Nov, Dec)

by Dr. Bob Doyle, Sky Columnist

When do the stars and planets begin to be seen?

In Oct., it’s about 7:30 p.m. (DST) For Nov., stars & planets begin to be seen at 6:15 p.m. (EST) and for Dec., sky objects can be seen as early as 6 p.m.

How do you find directions without using a compass?

After the sun sets, you will see the brightest twilight glow in the West. Face that direction; your right arm extended side wards points roughly North and your left arm extended side wards points roughly South.

How do you tell a bright star from a bright planet?

Both objects appear as points of light, but the planets tend to shine more steadily than the stars. The planets are found only along the zodiac, a band in the sky that runs from the East, into the South and then down into the West.

How do the stars and planets change position during the night?

The Earth spins Eastward, that is why Europe has sunrises while we are still in the a.m. darkness. As a reflection of this eastward spin, the stars, moon and planets roll towards the West during the night. Stars will appear to rise in the East (as the sun does), usually cruise into the South and then drop out of view in the West. The only exception to this behavior are stars in the North that seem to circle about the North Star in a direction opposite to how the hands of a clock moves. The North Star is not very bright.

During the Fall 2018 months, when can I see the moon?

Oct. 24, Nov. 22 and Dec. 22 are the dates for full moon (which change from year to year). I call the full moon the night moon as it is visible all night long. A week before the full moon is when the moon appears half full in the evening sky. I call this the evening moon as it is mostly seen during evening hours (p.m.). You can also see the evening moon during the afternoon daylight hours. A week after the full moon is when the moon appears half full in the morning sky. I call this moon the morning moon as it is seen during the morning hours (a.m.). You can also see the morning moon in the morning daylight hours.

What stars and star groups are the easiest to spot during the spring months?

The Big Dipper (7 stars) is low in the North and hard to see. High in the North is Cassiopeia, whose 5 stars resemble a tilted letter ‘M’. In the West is a trio of bright stars called the Summer Triangle. The brightest Triangle star is Vega farthest to the right. Above Vega is Deneb, the head star of the Northern Cross. On December evenings, the Northern Cross floats above the Northwestern horizon. In the Northeast is the bright yellow star Capella. To the right of Capella is Aldebaran, the orange star marking the eye of the Bull. Above Aldebaran is the 7 Sisters or Pleiades star cluster. If you see 6 stars in the Pleiades, your eyesight is good.

How many stars can be seen by eye on a clear, moonless night?

In our area, perhaps a thousand stars might be seen. From a dry, desert area in the Southwestern U.S., perhaps two thousand stars may be visible. From the center of a large city, perhaps only a few hundred stars may be seen. Binoculars will allow you to see many more stars.

What more can you see with binoculars or a small telescope?

Binoculars held steadily may allow you to spot the moon’s craters and mountain ridges (when moon appears half full). The full moon shows the moon’s lava basins or maria as grey patches seen by eye.

What planets can be seen on fall evenings?

In early fall, the planet Saturn shines in the Southwest at dusk. Saturn’s rings can be seen with a telescope magnifying 40 times. The yellow planet Mars shines to the left of Saturn and can be seen all through the fall.

For more sky information, contact rdoyle@frostburg.edu. In late fall, a 2019 sky calendar will be available.

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Dr. Jason Speights

Director of the MLC
Assistant Professor of Physics

Email: jcspeights@frostburg.edu (preferred)
Phone: 301.687.4339
Office: Gira CCIT 189

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Frostburg State University
101 Braddock Road
Frostburg, MD 21532-2303

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