The Sky Above You – May 2019
By Duncan Lunan
The Moon will be New on May 4th and Full on May 18th.
The planet Mercury is at superior conjunction on the far side of the Sun on May 21st and back in the northwest evening sky in late May, setting after 10 p.m. by the end of the month, outshining Mars as they move towards conjunction in June. Mercury is near the Moon to the north on May 3rd.
Venus now rises about 4.30 a.m., shortly before sunrise, and visible only briefly before daylight.
Mars moves from Taurus into Gemini, where it will be in conjunction with Mercury next month. The thin crescent Moon is below Mars on the 7th.
Ceres, the largest of the asteroids, comes to opposition in southern Ophiucus on May 28th, when it will be at its nearest to Earth and due south at midnight (GMT). The Moon passes Ceres on the 19th.
Jupiter in Ophiucus now rises at 11.00 p.m.. Jupiter is near the Moon on the 19th to 21st, forming a triangle with Antares in Scorpius on the 19th.
Saturn in Sagittarius rises about 1 a.m., moving westward after passing its stationary point on April 30th, and near the Moon on the night of the 22nd/23rd.
Uranus is not visible in May, after its conjunction with the Sun on April 22nd.
Neptune in Aquarius has returned to the morning sky, rising about 3 a.m..
The eta Aquarid meteor shower of debris from Halley’s Comet peaks on the night of 5th/6th May, and will be best seen after 3 a.m., but not spoiled by moonlight.
The next meeting of the Astronomers of the Future Club will be on Thursday May 30th, from 19:15 to 21:00 hrs at the RSAS Barassie Works Club, 4 Shore Road, Troon, KA10 6AG. The speaker will be John Pressley of the Coats Observatory, Paisley, on “The New Horizons Mission”, which passed Jupiter in 2007, Pluto in 2015, and the Kuiper Belt asteroid Ultima Thule, the most distant object visited so far, in January 2019. For more details, contact Alan Martin on 07947 331632.
“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.