The Sky Above You – September 2019


By Duncan Lunan



The Moon will be New on September 28th, Full on the 14th, and on the night of 19/20th September, it will pass below the Pleiades Open Cluster in Taurus, passing between Castor and Pollux in Gemini on the 24th, and near the Praesepe cluster in Cancer on the 25th.


This year’s Autumn Equinox is on September 23rd and I shall be trying to photograph sunrise and sunset at the rebuilt Sighthill stone circle in Glasgow, to check if the marker stones are correctly placed.


The planets Mercury, Venus and Mars are not visible this month. Mercury is in superior conjunction on the far side of the Sun on the 4th, and Mars is in solar conjunction on the 2nd. Mars is near the Moon on the 28th, as will Mercury on the 29th, but neither they nor the Moon will be visible.


Jupiter in Ophiucus sets about 10.30 p.m., and appears near the Moon on the 5th.


Saturn is higher in the sky than Jupiter, within the ‘Teapot’ asterism in Sagittarius, and sets about 00.30 a.m., still moving westward after being passed by the Earth, but reaching its ‘stationary point’ on the 18th. The Moon is near Saturn on the 8th and will pass in front of it, as seen from Australia. By the end of September Saturn is setting around 9.30 p.m..


Uranus in Aries rises about 8.30 p.m., moving westward against the stars as it’s overtaken by the Earth before opposition in October. Uranus is five degrees north of the Moon on the 17th.


Neptune in Aquarius is in the sky all night long, at opposition, nearest to us for the year and due south at midnight GMT/UT, on September 10th. Before that, between September 3rd and 9th Neptune will be close to the red and green double star Phi Aquarii, though a telescope will be needed to appreciate the event. On September 6th Neptune will be only one arcminute, or half the apparent diameter of Jupiter, from the star. Neptune is 4.2° north of the Moon on the 13th.


At the Astronomers of the Future Club meeting on Thursday September 26th the guest speaker will be Bonnie Steves, Professor of Mathematical Astronomy at Glasgow Caledonian University, on ‘Extrasolar Planets – what we know, how we study them and what our explorations can tell us about the origin and evolution of our own Solar System’. 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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