The Sky Above You – August 2020


By Duncan Lunan



The Moon will be Full on August 3rd, and it will be New on August 19th. This month there are spectacular encounters of the Moon with Mercury, Venus and prominent stars – see below – and over the course of the night all the planets are visible, though telescopes are needed for Uranus and Neptune.


In early August the planet Mercury lies below Castor and Pollux in Gemini, rising about 4.20 a.m., and on August 9th the planet passes in front of the Open Cluster Praesepe (the Beehive) in Cancer. Mercury passes superior conjunction on the far side of the Sun on August 17th and is near the New Moon on the 19th, when neither will be visible.


Venus is in the morning sky, rising about 2 a.m., to the left of the Moon as it passes below the Hyades and Pleiades on August 13th to 16th, when Venus rises at greatest elongation from the Sun. By the end of August Venus is below Castor and Pollux in Gemini.


In early August Mars rises in Pisces around 11.30 p.m., near the Moon on August 8th, and it rises by 9.30 p.m. at the end of the month.


Jupiter in Sagittarius sets about 3 a.m. in August. The Moon is near Jupiter on August 1st and 28th.


Saturn is close to Jupiter throughout this quarter. The Moon is near Saturn on August 2nd, and again on August 28-29th.


Uranus in Aries rises about 11.30 p.m. in August, coming to its apparent ‘stationary point’ on the 15th, as the Earth begins to overtake it, and the Moon is nearby on the 11th.


Neptune in Aquarius rises about 10 p.m. in August, near the Moon on the 7th.


The Perseid meteors from Comet Swift-Tuttle peak on the nights of 11th to 13th August. Normally they would be best seen after 1 a.m. BST, as the Earth turns to face the incoming stream of dust along the comet’s orbit, but this year they will be spoiled by moonlight after the third quarter Moon (half full, waning) rises before midnight at the start, and soon after midnight on the 13th.


Duncan Lunan’s latest book “From the Moon to the Stars”, a collection of space travel stories old and new relating to the Moon and Project Apollo, illustrated by Sydney Jordan, is now available from the publishers at https://othersidebooks.wordpress.com, as well as on Amazon or through booksellers; details of that and his other books are on Duncan’s website, www.duncanlunan.com.






The Sky Above You


By Duncan Lunan


About this Column


I began writing this column in early 1983 at the suggestion of the late Chris Boyce.   At that time the Post Office would allow 1000 free mailings to start a new business, just under the number of small press newspapers in the UK at the time.   I printed a flyer with the help of John Braithwaite  (of Braithwaite Telescopes)  offering a three-part column for £5, with the sky this month, a series of articles for beginners, and a monthly news feature.   The column ran from May 1983 to May 1993 in various newspapers and magazines, but never in more than five outlets at a time, although every one of those 1000-plus papers would have included an astrology column.   Since then it’s appeared sporadically in a range of publications including The Southsider in Glasgow and the Dalyan Courier in Turkey, but most often, normally three times per year, in Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos from the first issue in March 2003 until the last in January 2018.   It continues to appear monthly in Troon's Going Out and Orkney News. Enquries from other outlets welcomed!


 The monthly maps for the column were drawn for me by Jim Barker, based on similar, uncredited ones in Dr. Leon Hausman’s “Astronomy Handbook”  (Fawcett Publications, 1956).   Jim had to redraw or elongate several of them because they were drawn for mid-US latitudes, about 40 degrees North, making them usable over most of the northern hemisphere.   The biggest change needed was in November when only Dubhe, Merak and Megrez of the Big Dipper, as the US version called it, were visible at that latitude.   In the UK, all the stars of the Plough are circumpolar, always above the horizon.   We decided to keep an insert in the January map showing the position of M42, the Great Nebula in the Sword of Orion, and for that reason, to stick with the set time of 9 p.m., (10 p.m. BST in summer), although in Scotland the sky isn’t dark then during June and July. 


To use the maps in theory you should hold them overhead, aligning the North edge to true north, marked by Polaris and indicated by Dubhe and Merak, the Pointers.   It’s more practical to hold the map in front of you when looking south and then rotate it as you face east, south and west.   Some readers are confused because east is on the left, opposite to terrestrial maps, but that’s because they’re the other way up.   When you’re facing south and looking at the sky, east is on your left.  


The star patterns are the same for each month of each year, and only the positions of the planets change.   (“Astronomy Handbook” accidentally shows Saturn in Virgo during May, showing that the maps weren’t originally drawn for the Hausman book.)   Consequently regular readers for a year will by then have built up a complete set of twelve.





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