The Sky Above You – March 2019


By Duncan Lunan



The Moon will be New on March 6th and Full on March 21st, the day after the Spring Equinox. It will be the third successive ‘Supermoon’ when the Moon is Full at its closest to Earth. If all goes well, on the day of the Equinox I shall be taking part in a media event for the re-erection of the Sighthill stone circle, the first astronomical one in the UK for over 3000 years, which I designed and built for Glasgow Parks Department in 1978-79. The Equinox will be the 40th anniversary of its completion by Royal Naval helicopter, but the hill on which it stood has now been removed to make way for new housing development. After a petition which drew over 6500 signatures, the stones were removed intact in April 2016, a new platform had been created for them by June 2017, and following observations last year I was able to calculate the alignments to mark the solstices, equinoxes and key lunar events at the new site. As of 27th February six of the stones have been re-erected, and work is in full swing.


In the first week of March the planet Mercury is in the evening sky, setting around 7.30 p.m., but it’s not visible for the rest of this month, at inferior conjunction on this side of the Sun on March 15th (don’t look for it then!)


Venus is still bright in the morning sky, rising at 4.00 a.m., but will be disappearing by the end of the month. The waning Moon is between Venus and Saturn on the 2nd and passes Venus on the morning of the 3rd.


Gaining altitude in the evening sky although growing fainter, Mars moves from Aries into Taurus, setting around 10.30 p.m., passed by the Moon on the 11th and three degrees from the Pleiades cluster on the 30th. NASA has given up attempts to reactivate the Opportunity rover, which succumbed to a dust storm in 2018 after 14 years exploring the Martian surface. Opportunity didn’t respond to a last attempt to restart it in February, and from there on conditions will deteriorate with the advance of autumn in that hemisphere.


Jupiter, in the morning sky in Ophiucus, now rises at 2.30 a.m., to the left of Antares in Scorpius, and it’s only 1.2º from the Moon on the morning of the 27th. Jupiter’s four large ‘Galilean’ moons are normally spaced out around the planet, but on March 10th and 27th they will be appear to be spread in a line to the east of it.


Saturn in Sagittarius rises about 4 a.m., near the Moon on the 1st, and is one degree above the waning Moon on the 29th.. Saturn is near Venus, though much fainter, on the 18th.


Uranus is in Aries, below and to the right of Mars, near the Moon on the 10th, setting about 9.30 p.m.. With the Sun now overhead at the north pole of Uranus, due to the weird tilt of the planet’s axis, a bright hood of cloud now covers the northern hemisphere, discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope. In a piece of really good news, the shutdown of the Wide Field Camera on the HST has turned out to be due to a false instrument reading, and the HST is back in business.


Neptune in Aquarius is now behind the Sun, in conjunction with it on the 7th, but meanwhile the Hubble Telescope has discovered a new dark spot in the northern hemisphere, the fifth since their discovery in the Voyager 2 flyby of Neptune in 1989.


The next meeting of the Astronomers of the Future Club will be on Thursday March 28th, from 19:15 to 21:00 hrs at the RSAS Barassie Works Club, 4 Shore Road, Troon, KA10 6AG. The speaker will be Dr. Martin Sweatman of Edinburgh University School of Engineering, speaking about the astronomical significance of ancient cave paintings, as reported in the press last year (Charlie Jarvis, ‘Ancient Astronomy Paintings Discovered’, The National, November 28th, 2018). For more details contact 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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