The Sky Above You – January 2019


By Duncan Lunan



The Moon will be New on January 6th and Full on January 21st, a ‘Supermoon’ when the Moon is Full at its closest to Earth. At 3.34 a.m. the Moon will enter the Earth’s shadow, and the eclipse will be total between 4.41 a.m.and 5.43 a.m.. China’s Chang’e 4 probe landed on the Farside of the Moon on January 3rd, the first time it’s been done, and the landing site is Von Kármán crater, which has been a site of particular scientific interest since the Apollo surveys in the early 1970s.


The planet Mercury is too near the Sun to be visible in January, at superior conjunction on the 30th.


Venus is bright in the morning sky, rising at 4.30 a.m. and passing from Libra, through Scorpius into Ophiucus, at maximum west elongation on January 6th. On the morning of January 22nd Venus passes above Jupiter and the waning crescent Moon is near them on the 30th and 31st.


Mars remains in Pisces, setting around 11.30 p.m., growing fainter. The Moon is near Mars on January 12th.


Jupiter is in the morning sky in Ophiucus, near Antares in Scorpius, rising at 6 a.m.. Jupiter is near Venus on January 22nd, and near the waning Moon on January 30th.


Saturn in Sagittarius is not visible for most of January, after conjunction with the Sun on January 2nd, but rises at 7 a.m. at the end of the month.


Uranus is in Pisces, to upper left of Mars, setting around 1 a.m..


Neptune in Aquarius sets about 9 p.m..


In a big week for NASA, on December 31st the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft entered orbit around the asteroid Bennu, from which it will attempt to return samples to Earth. On January 1st the New Horizons spacecraft, which passed Pluto and its moons in 2015, flew by the Kuiper Belt asteroid Ultima Thule, the most distant object ever visited. Although the asteroid is only 30 km in diameter, it has turned out to be a double object and may well produce major surprises. New Horizons is travelling towards the centre of the Milky Way, and it’s now thought that it may remain operational till the 2030s and perhaps reach the edge of the Solar System like the Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. As of November 5th, 2018, when Voyager 2 left the boundary layer, both Voyagers are at last in interstellar space.


Meetings of the Astronomers of the Future Club will resume on Thursday January 31st at the RSAS Barassie Works Club, 4 Shore Road, Troon, KA10 6AG, 7.15 to 9 p.m.. The guest speaker has still be be announced: for details contact Club Treasurer Duncan Lunan on 07986-065437..


“Starfield, science fiction by Scottish writers”, edited by Duncan Lunan, is available from the publishers at https://www.shorelineofinfinity.com/product/starfield. Duncan’s recent books “Children from the Sky”, “The Stones and the Stars”, “Incoming Asteroid!” and “The Elements of Time” are available from the publishers, on Amazon or through booksellers; details 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, with other outlets pending.


 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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