Our Friendly Skies

September 30, 2008|By ROD MARTIN and ANDY SMETZE, Tristate Astronomers

Visible evening planets

Jupiter is the bright evening planet low in the southwest.

Venus is bright but low in the west during evening twilight.

Visible morning planets

Saturn rises before the Sun late in October.

Mercury is visible in the east before sunrise late in the month.


International Space Station Oct. 6

Direction to look: north, northwest at 7:35 p.m.

It will appear as a bright star moving across the sky like an airplane at night, but with no blinking lights.

Solar system

This is a month of transition. None of the naked eye planets are near their peaks for easy visibility. They are either entering or leaving the sky or at least past their observing prime.


The brightest and easiest to see planet is Jupiter this month. It is in the southwest less than one-fourth up the sky. It is in the constellation Sagittarius. Jupiter sets before midnight at magnitude -2. It will get lower each night as the solar twilight glare catches it.

Venus is low in the west after sunset. It is brighter than Jupiter, however, it is still in the twilight glare. Watch the beautiful grouping of

Venus and thin crescent Moon around Oct. 1 and 31. Mars is between Venus and the Sun this month. That will make it very hard

to see. Mars is very faint at +1.6 magnitude. Mars is practically unobservable.

Mercury enters the morning sky on Oct. 6 when it reaches inferior conjunction. That is when it passes between the Earth and Sun. It will not be visible until late October. At -0.5 magnitude, it will put on its best morning appearance of 2008. Look low in the east 30 to 60 minutes before sunrise. The best time is around Oct. 22 when it reaches greatest

elongation from the Sun. Saturn takes over the morning stage this month. It is not the brightest object at +1 magnitude, but as the month passes it rises earlier each day, about a couple hours before sunrise. The rings are now tilted less open than over the past year because of our viewing angle. That means that it will not appear as bright in the sky.

Sun and Moon

Since we have passed the fall equinox, we now have more nighttime than daylight. This will continue until the winter solstice on Dec. 21.

On Oct. 1, the Sun rises at 7:07, sets at 6:52 for 11 hours and 45 minutes of daylight. By Oct. 31, the Sun rises at 7:38, sets at 6:10 for 10 hours and 32 minutes of daylight.

The Sun enters the astronomic boundaries of Libra from Virgo on Oct. 30.

The moon reaches first quarter on Oct. 7, full on Oct. 14, last

quarter on Oct. 21, and new on Oct. 28.

Brish Planetarium

Since this is the 40th anniversary year of the planetarium, many good previous programs will be shown this year. Except for January and February, programs will be changed monthly.

The public program is "Galaxies."  The program will be presented on Oct. 7, 21, and 28 at 7 p.m. There will be no program on Oct. 14.

"Galaxies" presents all sorts of deep space objects, particularly galaxies, as well as our home galaxy, the Milky Way.

Programs are held Tuesday evenings at 7 when schools are in session, unless noted otherwise.  Admission costs $3 for adults, $2 for children and students, and senior citizens with a WCPS gold card get in free.

The Tristate Astronomers meet monthly in the planetarium. For more information and schedules for the club, go to

The planetarium is at the Central Offices of the Washington County Public Schools on Commonwealth Avenue off Frederick Street in Hagerstown.

The planetarium's Web site is and the phone number is 301-766-2892.

Stay up to date with public programs and take a tour of the night sky with "Skylights," the Brish Planetarium's monthly podcasts on, which are made possible by Antietam Cable Television, The Herald-Mail Co. and the Washington County Public Schools Public Information Office.

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