The Sky Above You – March 2017


By Duncan Lunan



The Moon will be Full on March 12th. and New on March 28th. On the night of March 4th the Moon will pass in front of the Hyades Open Cluster in Taurus, grazing Aldebaran.


The planet Mercury is in the evening sky in the last week of March, best seen about 8 p.m.. The joint European and Japanese Bepicolombo mission to Mercury, named after the pioneer of gravitational slingshot navigation, has been rescheduled from launch this quarter to some time in October 2018, due to electrical problems in the spacecraft’s power processing units. The crescent Moon is near Mercury on March 28th and five degrees to the left of it on the 29th.


Venus disappears from the evening sky in March, overtaking us on its journey round the Sun (inferior conjunction) on March 25th before reappearing in the morning sky at the end of the month. The crescent Moon is to the left of Venus on March 1st.


Mars is in Aries in March, setting about 9.45 p.m.. The Moon is near Mars on March 30th.


Vesta, the brightest of the asteroids, is in Gemini near Pollux and in range of binoculars in March.


Jupiter, in Virgo, rises around 8.30 p.m. in March as it’s overtaken by the Earth, at its closest next month. Jupiter’s largest moon Ganymede and its shadow will cross Jupiter’s disc on the morning of 2nd/3rd March, and our Moon passes Jupiter on 14th March, near Spica in Virgo.


Saturn is in the morning sky, rising at 2 a.m. in March, in Sagittarius. The Moon appears near Saturn on March 20th. After 13 years orbiting Saturn, the Cassini spacecraft is making close passes of the edge of the visible rings, before its final plunge into the planet on September 15th.


Uranus in Pisces disappears by the end of March. Mars is half a degree from Uranus on February 26th and is nearby in early March, after which Uranus passes Mercury on March 25th.


Neptune in Aquarius is not in view in March.


Comet 41P Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak, discovered in the 19th century, may be visible in binoculars when it passes half a degree northeast of the spiral galaxy M108 in Ursa Major on March 22nd.


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. The March 30th speaker will be Natasha Jeffrey, a researcher at the University of Glasgow, speaking on ‘Solar Flares and High Energy Observations of the Sun’. For more details see the AOTF Club section of the parent charity’s website, www.actascio.org/aotfclub.asp


The second issue of Space and Scotland magazine, featuring education and Scottish observatories, will be available at the March AOTF Club meeting and thereafter at Troon Public Library, and will be distributed to other societies.


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