The Sky Above You – August 2019


By Duncan Lunan



The Moon will be New on August 1st and 30th, Full on August 15th, and on the night of 23rd/24th August, it will rise about 1 a.m. as it begins to pass across the Hyades Open Cluster in Taurus.


On 9th August the planet Mercury will be at greatest elongation from the Sun, low in the morning sky between 5 and 6 a.m., easiest to see about the middle of the month, and it will be passed by the New Moon on the 30th after it has disappeared from view. At that point the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus and Mars will all be in the constellation Leo, but there will be nothing to see.


Venus and Mars are not visible this month. Venus is at superior conjunction, on the far side of the Sun, on August 14th. Mars is near the New Moon on the 1st, but neither will be visible.


Jupiter in Ophiucus sets about midnight, and reaches an apparent ‘stationary point’ on the 11th, after which it will begin to move eastward again against the stars, now that the Earth is pulling ahead of it. Jupiter appears near the Moon on the 9th.


Saturn in Sagittarius is now higher in the sky than Jupiter, well to the left above the ‘Teapot’ asterism in Sagittarius, and sets about 2.30 a.m., still moving westward after being passed by the Earth last month. Saturn is near the Moon on the 12th., and will pass behind it as seen from East Australia and New Zealand.


Uranus in Aries rises about 10.30 p.m. and it comes to a stationary point on August 12th, then moving westward as it’s overtaken by the Earth before opposition in October.


Neptune in Aquarius is in the sky all night long, moving westward towards opposition in September, near the Moon on the 17th.


Pluto is following a similar loop to Jupiter’s, Saturn’s, Uranus’s and Neptune’s, to the left of the ‘Teapot’ in Sagittarius, following its opposition to the Earth on July 14th. Pluto is currently moving westward after being passed by the Earth, and reverses its apparent course on October 3rd. Pluto is passed by the Moon on August 12th, and will be occulted by it, seen from central Africa, possibly yielding useful data after the 2015 New Horizons flyby.


The annual Perseid meteor shower from Comet Swift-Tuttle, the Great Comet of 1862, will peak on the night of 12/13th August, but will be spoiled by moonlight this year.


At the Astronomers of the Future Club meeting on Thursday August 29th the guest speaker will be Dr. Gerry Nordley, space scientist, amateur astronomer and science fiction writer, talking about the wide-ranging scientific background of his story ‘Empress of Starlight’, published in Analog magazine, Nov/Dec 2018. The meeting will be from 19:15 to 21:00 hrs at the RSAS Barassie Works Club, 4 Shore Road, Troon, KA10 6AG. For more details, contact Alan Martin on 07947 331632.


Duncan Lunan’s new book “From the Moon to the Stars”, a collection of space travel stories old and new relating to the Moon and Project Apollo, 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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