The Sky Above You – April 2018


By Duncan Lunan



The Moon was Full on March 31st (the second ‘Blue Moon’ in succession, after two Full Moons in January and none in February). The Moon is New on April 16th, and Full again on April 30th.. On the 18th it begins to pass through the Hyades open cluster in Taurus, shortly before setting.


The planet Mercury disappeared from the evening sky in late March and was at inferior conjunction, this side of the Sun, on April 1st. Mercury then reappears in the morning sky, at greatest western elongation from the Sun on April 29th, in Pisces, but remains low, disappearing in May.


Venus is in the evening sky and grows brighter in April, near the Moon on the 17th.


Mars is in Sagittarius, becoming steadily brighter throughout, and rising about 3 a.m. (GMT/UT). Mars was nearest Saturn on April 2nd, and is passed by the Moon on April 8th .


Jupiter is in Libra, rising about 10 p.m. (GMT/UT), turning and beginning to move westward (retrograde) in April as the Earth overtakes it on its inner orbit. The Moon appeared near Jupiter on April 3rd and will again on the 30th. NASA’s Juno mission over the poles of Jupiter has now confirmed that the planet has no rock and metal core, unlike all the other planets, and the visible features of the atmosphere like the Great Red Spot extend down into the atmosphere for thousands of miles. Originally scheduled to end in February, the mission has been extended to July with the option of continuing further.


Saturn is in Sagittarius, rising with Mars, moving retrograde and passed by the Moon on April 7th. The rings are still close to their maximum angle with respect to us.


Uranus in Pisces is behind the Sun in April and May.


Neptune in Aquarius is back in the morning sky, rising about 5 a.m..


The Lyrid meteor shower peaks on April 22nd/23rd, but will be spoiled by moonlight until the morning hours.


The next meeting of the Astronomers of the Future Club will be on Thursday April 26th, 7.15 to 9 p.m., upstairs at the RSAS Barassie Works Club, 4 Shore Road, Troon, KA10 6AG. The guest speaker will be Robert Law of the Mills Observatory in Dundee, talking about his most recent visit to Kennedy Space Center and the changes there since 2016. The previously planned April speaker, Eamonn Ansbro of the Kingsland Observatory in County Roscommon on ‘The Possibility of Quantum Communication’, has been rescheduled to September.


Duncan Lunan’s 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