Cumberland Times-News

August 10, 2013

A good sky calendar actually can be found

Bob Doyle, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— In a few months, there will be a multitude of 2014 calendars available. The photos in such calendars can range from supermodels to cartoon figures, from cuddly kittens to ferocious mythological creatures.  

You’ll have to look far and wide to find a good sky calendar. “Astronomy” magazine has selected a stunning set of twelve images of cosmic gas clouds (nebulae) for their 2014 Deep Space Mystery calendar. It’s ISBN is 978-0-89024-927-7 and lists at $13.

Some nebulae in space are in star formation regions, being lit up by the light of newly born stars.

Other nebulae are formed when a star explodes or goes supernova, ejecting most of a star’s mass at very high speeds.

Yet other nebulae are not illuminated so they appear as sinister dark tangles, blocking the stars in back of them. What makes a nebula dark is cosmic dust. The dust particles in these clouds are about the same size as the particles in cigarette smoke.

While these tiny dust particles are meters (1 meter = 3.3 feet) apart, these clouds have thicknesses of trillions of miles (a trillion is a million x a million).

You can see some the dark dust clouds when you look at the Milky Way in a clear, moonless sky. The Milky Way seems to have ripples in it (think fudge ripple ice cream). Some nebulae have completely formed into stars, resulting in a rich star cluster.

In the middle of such clusters, there are no dark nights; the stars are so close that their brilliant light would allow reading of newspapers and books outside at night.

    In addition to the majestic images of nebulae, this Deep Space calendar describes what bright planets are on display each month. (There are five easily seen planets seen in our skies: Mercury and Venus seen either at dawn or dusk while Mars, Jupiter and Saturn may be visible at any time during the night.)

This calendar also alerts you on the days when the moon is near a bright star or a bright planet. Important dates in space exploration such as the Mars landings, dates when historic space probes flew by planets, etc. are given. Meteor shower dates are also included.

The 2014 Lunar Calendar shows the moon’s shape or phase for each night, which glows in the dark. This calendar is from Universe Publishing with an ISBN of 978-0-7893-2649-2 and lists for $15.

For each month, there are explanations of key lunar phenomena, such as the blocking of stars, planets, lunar and solar eclipses, and whether a meteor shower will be spoiled by bright moonlight.

This calendar also mentions the phases that are growing (waxing) in lighted width. Other phases are shrinking (waning) in lighted width. In the evening, the moon appears wider each night until full moon. Then in the dozen days following full moon, the moon appears slimmer each night.

The waning phases are most easily seen in the a.m. or morning hours. The images in the Lunar Calendar include the Supermoon of 2012, a lunar eclipse, breath taking close ups of the moon, and Earthshine (when moon’s night side is lit up by the Earth).

Each December, the author of this column compiles a two-page Sky Highlights for the year. This includes the dates of first quarter moon (when moon’s craters are best seen) and full moon. There is also a list of the dates when the sun crosses into different zodiac groups, reflecting the actual star group boundaries.

For each bright planet, the times of year when they are visible in the evening (p.m.) sky and morning (a.m.) sky are given.  

The second page lists the time of sunrise and sunset for seven different towns in the Tri-State area, including Bedford and Meyersdale in Pennsylvania, Keyser and Romney in West Virginia and Cumberland, Hancock and Oakland in Maryland.

The times of sunrise and sunset are given on the first, 11th and 21st day of each month. This Celestial Highlights will be posted in the planetarium area of the Frostburg State website. Go to http://www.frostburg.edu/planetarium .

SKY SIGHTS AHEAD: Tomorrow morning is the best time to watch for the Perseid Meteor Shower. Tonight the moon will be setting about 10:30 p.m. So the rest of the night will be moon free and good for meteor watching.

Look for the zig-zag pattern of stars in the Northern sky — this is Cassiopeia. Below Cassiopeia is her son-in-law, Perseus. To the left of the Perseus’ head is the sky region where the Perseid meteors can be traced back to.

Meteor showers usually occur when the Earth plows through a comet’s orbit, which is cluttered with comet grit. This comet grit often the size of a pea, is incinerated in the upper atmosphere, causing a “shooting star” or meteor.

On Aug. 14, the moon will appear half full (first quarter) and great for crater and mountain range spotting with telescopes. Some lunar detail can also be seen with binoculars held steadily.

Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. E-mail him at rdoyle@frostburg.edu . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.