The Sky Above You – July 2018


By Duncan Lunan



The Moon will be New on July 13th, Full on July 27th. On the 27th the Moon will rise at 8.47 p.m. BST during a total eclipse, which will last for nearly another 90 minutes, with the Earth’s shadow moving off the disc for an hour after that. Mars is at its closest to us that night, and will be below the Moon, well to the left, with Saturn further out to the Moon’s right.


The planet Mercury is at greatest eastern elongation from the Sun on July 12th, on the boundary between Leo and Cancer, but is too low to be visible from Scotland.


Venus is in Leo at the end of June, very bright in the evening sky during July, setting two hours after the Sun. Venus appears near the Moon on July 15th and 16th.


Mars in Capricornus is passed by the Moon on July 1st. Mars rises at 11.15 p.m., 9.15 by the end of the month, moving retrograde (westward) as the Earth passes it, and it comes to opposition (at its closest to us, due south at midnight GMT/UT), on July 27th, on the night of the Full Moon. Mars’s distance at opposition varies, because its orbit is more elliptical than ours, but this will be one of the closest ones at 35.7 million miles, nearest to us since the very close opposition in 2003. Unfortunately that means Mars will also be at its closest to the Sun, with a good chance of dust storms spoiling the telescope view, but it will be bright despite the Full Moon and especially so during the eclipse. A major storm had already developed by mid-June, forcing the solar-powered Opportunity rover to shut down, and it remains to be seen whether it can be revived. The larger Curiosity rover is nuclear-powered and much less affected.


Jupiter comes to its stationary point on July 11th after opposition in May, after which it will resume its normal eastward motion. Jupiter sets about 1 a.m. and the Moon appears near Jupiter on July 20th. NASA’s Juno mission over the poles of Jupiter, originally scheduled to end in February this year, was extended to July and we may hope it continues further.


Saturn is low in Sagittarius through July, setting about 4 a.m., and passed by the Moon on July 24th. The rings are still close to their maximum angle with respect to us.


Uranus is in the morning sky, in Aries, rising soon after midnight.


Neptune in Aquarius reappeared before sunrise in June and now rises about 11 p.m., passed by the Moon on the 4th and 31st.


In Scotland twilight lasts all night in June and July, giving the chance to observe noctilucent clouds, floating around 60 miles up in the north and reflecting the sunlight coming from below the horizon. It’s still a mystery what they’re made of - ‘ice’ is the normal explanation, but normal ice crystals would be too heavy to float at that altitude – and there are no records of them before the mid-19th century, so whatever they are, they appear to be a recent phenomenon.


The next meeting of the Astronomers of the Future Club will be on Thursday July 26th , from 7.15 to 9 p.m. at the RSAS Barassie Works Club, 4 Shore Road, Troon, KA10 6AG. Club Treasurer Duncan Lunan and Colin Baird will make a joint presentation on the astronomically aligned tomb at Newgrange in Ireland.



“Starfield, science fiction by Scottish writers”, edited by Duncan Lunan, is now available from the publishers at https://www.shorelineofinfinity.com/product/starfield, like his collection of time-travel stories, “The Elements of Time” ( https://www.shorelineofinfinity.com/product/the-elements-of-time). 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









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