Cumberland Times-News

Columns

December 28, 2013

Here are highlights for 2014 night skies

During the entire year, you can see the International Space Station (ISS) pass over our area. On close passages, the ISS rivals the brilliant planet Venus.

Each month, there will be as many as a half dozen good flyovers of the ISS. These flyovers tend to come in bunches, such as three flyovers during the convenient evening hours on two to four days (when the sun is below our horizon but the ISS is still being illuminated by the sun).

There are also as many inconvenient morning flyovers (when the sun has not yet risen but the ISS is being illuminated by the sun).

Unfortunately these flyovers can’t be predicted far in advance. You must have Internet access to find the times. Try googling “ISS SIGHTINGS.”

You will be directed to a website where you must specify the name of your town and state or the latitude and longitude. (Cumberland’s latitude is roughly 39.7 degrees North and 78.7 degrees West.)

I use www.heavens-above.com, a European website (in English) that provides the local ISS flyovers during the next 10 days.

This website tells you the evening and predawn sighting times, starting with the time when the ISS first appears at 10 degrees above the horizon and direction. Then the peak altitude in degrees and direction is specified. Lastly, the time and direction where the ISS disappears or drops below 10 degrees altitude.

When you first see the ISS, it will be moving slowly, speeding up as it ascends in height (it is getting closer to us). Typically, the ISS can be seen for three or four minutes, during which it slowly creeps across the sky.

In the first quarter of 2014 (January-March), the planet Jupiter is the brightest point of light in the evening sky. Jupiter also shines steadily in contrast to the twinkling stars.

A small telescope allows you to see Jupiter’s large moons. The planet Mercury may be seen very low in the southwest in the last week of January and early February.

The star group Orion with his three star belt is prominent in the southern evening sky. The belt stars point leftward to Sirius, the night’s brightest star.

In the second quarter of 2014 (April-June), the orange or yellowish planet Mars is conspicuous. Although not as bright as Jupiter, Mars draws attention for its tint (seen only when Mars is close to the Earth as it will be in April and May). Look for Mars in the southeast evening sky.

Then in May, the planet Saturn appears low in the southeast, among the stars of Libra. Saturn is only modest in its brightness, but its marvelous rings are easily seen with a small telescope at over 50 power.

Jupiter can still be seen in the west, dropping lower each week. The Big Dipper is high in the north with its leftmost stars pointing down to the North Star. The planet Venus is gorgeous in the Eastern dawn.

In the third quarter of 2014 (July-September), the planet Venus maintains its predawn visibility in July and August. Mars still lingers in the southwestern evening sky, but much dimmer than in April. Saturn moves into the west. The star group Scorpius resembles a starry ‘J’ low in the south.

In the fourth quarter of 2014 (October-December), there is an early evening lunar eclipse on Oct. 7. The moon is completely in the Earth’s shadow when it’s low in the East (about 6:39 p.m. EDT).

Mid-eclipse (moon darkest) will be 7:10 p.m. The moon will begin to creep out of the Earth’s shadow at 7:39 p.m. EDT. The early part of this eclipse occurs before the sky is completely dark.

The most conspicuous evening star group is the Summer Triangle, whose brightest star is Vega, seen in the western sky with its white-blue light.

October and November feature the Pleiades or 7 Sisters star cluster low in the east. December evenings feature the return of Orion, the Hunter in the late evening hours in the southeast.

SKY SIGHTS AHEAD: On Thursday, January 2 look about 5:40 p.m. for the brilliant planet Venus low in the southwest with a razor sharp crescent moon above Venus. This may be your last chance to see Venus in the evening sky until late in 2014.

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.

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