Teacher Resources

Beginner’s Guide to Sky Gazing in Winter '19

(Jan, Feb, Mar)

by Dr. Bob Doyle, Sky Columnist

When do the stars and planets begin to be seen?

In January, it’s about 6:30 p.m. For February, stars & planets begin to be seen at 7 p.m. (Standard Time) and for March, sky objects can be seen as early as 8:30 p.m. Daylight

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 or rightward 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 Winter 2019 months, when can I see the moon?

January 21, February 19 and March 20 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 daylight afternoon 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 about the lunar eclipse on the night of January 20-21?

The moon will pass through the Earth’s shadow in the middle of that night. You will notice a darkening of the moon’s left side at 10:34 p.m. Jan.20. By 11:41 p.m., the moon will be completely in the Earth’s deep shadow. The middle of the eclipse will be at 12:12 a.m. Jan. 21. The moon will start to lighten on its left side at 12:44 a.m.

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

Orion is the brightest winter evening star group with a belt of three stars in a row. Orion’s belt points down and left to Sirius, the night’s brightest star. Orion’s belt points up and right to Aldebaran, a bright orange star making the eye of the Bull (Taurus). High above Orion is the bright golden star Capella, nearly overhead. In the North Northeast is the Big Dipper of 7 bright stars. The two top stars of the Dipper points left to the North Star, a modest star about half way up in the North. The two top stars of the Big Dipper point rightward to the sickle of Leo, the Lion. In the North Northwest is Cassiopeia, whose 5 bright stars resemble a stretched out letter ‘M’.

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). Binoculars held steadily may allow you to see over a dozen stars in the 7 Sisters star cluster. In the eastern dawn, the brilliant planet Venus and the bright planet Jupiter can be seen. Small points of light nearby as seen in binoculars or a telescope are Jupiter’s moons. The yellow planet Mars is in southwestern evening sky.

For more sky information, contact rdoyle@frostburg.edu.

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Dr. Jason Speights

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Email: jcspeights@frostburg.edu (preferred)
Phone: 301.687.4339
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