The Sky Above You – September 2018


By Duncan Lunan



After more than 40 years of planning, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe was launched in August 2018. It will pass Venus on 2nd October and make its first approach to the Sun at 24 million kilometres on November 5th. The autumn equinox this year is on September 23rd. If weather permits I shall be at the new site for the Sighthill stone circle, which I designed for Glasgow in 1979, to check my sunrise and sunset calculations for the new location. After a successful public campaign to save the stones, re-erection is planned before the end of the year.


The Moon will be New on September 9th, and Full on September 25th. On the night of 2nd -3rd September the Moon will rise within the Hyades Open Cluster in Taurus, passing close to the bright star Aldebaran which lies in the line of sight. After travelling right round the sky, the Moon will be in the Hyades again on the night of 29th/30th September.


The planet Mercury is in the morning sky in Leo before sunrise early in September, passing Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, on the 6th and growing brighter until it’s lost in daylight by the 10th. Mercury is at superior conjunction, on the far side of the Sun, on September 21st.


Venus is still visible in the evening sky, in the west for an hour after sunset, very close to Spica in Virgo on the 1st and passed by the Moon on September 12th. Venus is very low and disappears by the end of the month.


Mars in Capricornus sets around 1.30 a.m., still bright but growing fainter. The planet-wide dust storm which formed at the closest approach to the Sun is now subsiding, but nothing more has been heard from the solar-powered Opportunity rover since it was forced to shut down in June. The Moon is near Mars on the 20th.


Japan’s Hyabusa 2 probe is within 1 kilometre of the asteroid Ryugu and will attempt to obtain samples for return to Earth, as will NASA’s OSIRIS-REX, which reached asteroid Bennu in August.


Jupiter in Libra now sets around 9 p.m., near the Moon on the 14th, and disappears behind the Sun during the month. On its extended polar mission, NASA’s Juno probe photographed the Little Red Spot in detail on July 15th, and the mission will now continue for a further three years.


Saturn in Sagittarius reaches its stationary point on September 6th and appears to reverse direction in the sky, as the Earth pulls away from it. Saturn is passed by the Moon on the 17th, and sets around 11.30 p.m..


Uranus in Aries rises about 8.30 p.m., and appears near the Moon on the 27th.


Neptune in Aquarius is in the sky all night, at opposition (nearest to us and due south at midnight GMT/UT) on the 7th, near the Moon on the 23rd. The Very Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory recently obtained the sharpest images of Neptune since the Voyager 2 flyby of 1989, revealing a triple belt of storm clouds south of the equator.


The next meeting of the Astronomers of the Future Club will be on Thursday September 27th from 7.15 to 9 p.m. at the RSAS Barassie Works Club, 4 Shore Road, Troon, KA10 6AG. The speaker will be Eamonn Ansbro from southern Ireland, talking about the possibility of Quantum Communication at speeds faster than light.


“Starfield, science fiction by Scottish writers”, edited by Duncan Lunan, is now 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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