The Sky Above You – April 2017

By Duncan Lunan



The Moon will be Full on April 11th, and New on April 26th. On 28th April the Moon passes the bright star Aldebaran in Taurus.


The planet Mercury is in the evening sky for the first week of April, best seen around 8 p.m., at greatest elongation from the Sun on April 1st (no kidding), and invisible at inferior conjunction between us and the Sun on April 20th.


Venus in Pisces rises an hour before the Sun in April and is at its brightest on the 30th, but still very low in the sky. The Moon is near Venus on April 24th.


Mars enters Taurus in April and passes the Pleiades on the 21st, when it sets around 11 p.m. BST. The Moon is near Mars on April 28th.


Jupiter in Virgo is visible all night in April, at opposition (closest to us and due south at midnight (GMT/UT) on April 7th. The Full Moon passes one degree from Jupiter on April 10th. After developing an engine problem NASA’s Juno probe will remain in its current orbit, gaining more data in close passes over the poles of Jupiter, but at longer intervals than planned.


Saturn rises at 1 a.m. in April, in Sagittarius. The Moon appears near it on April 17th. After 13 years orbiting Saturn, recently grazing the outer edge of the rings, the Cassini spacecraft will be making close passes of the inner edge before its final plunge into the planet on September 15th.


Uranus in Pisces disappeared by the end of March and is in conjunction on the far side of the Sun on April 14th, not to reappear until late June.


Neptune in Aquarius disappeared from view in February and will not return till May.


The Lyrid meteor shower is on the night of April 22nd, best seen after 1 a.m., with no interference from the Moon which will not rise till nearly 6 a.m.. The meteors will appear to come from the constellation Lyra, high overhead, but may be seen in any part of the surrounding sky.


Astronomers of the Future Club lectures will continue on the last Thursdays of the month at 7.15 p.m. in the R.S.A.S. Barassie Works Club on Shore Road, off West Portland Street in Troon, KA10 6AG, supported by a grant for guest speakers from South Ayrshire Council. On April 27th Prof. Kenneth A. Strain of Glasgow University will give an ‘Update on Gravitational Waves’, whose discovery the University announced early last year.


For more details see the AOTF Club section of the parent charity’s website, www.actascio.org/aotfclub.asp


Duncan Lunan’s new collection of time-travel stories, “The Elements of Time”, illustrated by Sydney Jordan, is available from the publishers at www.shorelineofinfinity.com. Duncan’s recent books “Children from the Sky”, “The Stones and the Stars” and “Incoming Asteroid! What Could We Do About It?” are available on Amazon or through booksellers; more details are on Duncan’s website, www.duncanlunan.com.












The Sky Above You


By Duncan Lunan


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 flier 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 since the first issue in March 2003.   It appeared monthly online in Cosmic Aspects and continues to appear monthly in the Ayrshire Post.


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 40o North.   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 of JHC have by now built up a complete set of twelve.



Duncan recording  The Sky Above You programs for the Falkland Island’s TV

Part 1


Part 2