The Sky Above You – October 2018


By Duncan Lunan



The Moon will be New on October 9th, and Full on October 24th.


The planets Mercury and Venus are both too near the Sun to be visible in October, and Venus is at inferior conjunction, at its nearest to us on this side of the Sun, on the 26th. Europe’s Bepicolombo probe to Mercury, named after the pioneer of interplanetary slingshot navigation, is scheduled for launch on October 20th.


Mars in Capricornus sets around 0.30 a.m., still bright but growing fainter. The planet-wide dust storm which formed at the closest approach to the Sun has now subsided, and NASA is making great efforts to reactivate the solar-powered Opportunity rover, which was forced to shut down in June. The Moon is near Mars on the 17th and 18th.


On September 21st Japan’s Hyabusa 2 probe successfully landed two small rovers on the asteroid Ryugu. The asteroid’s gravity is too low for them to drive around, so they’re exploring the surface by hopping, as will Europe’s lander MASCOT which is to be set down on Ryugu in October.


Jupiter in Libra sets around 8 p.m., and disappears behind the Sun early in the month.


Saturn in Sagittarius sets around 9.30 p.m., and is passed by the Moon on the 15h.


Uranus, on the boundary between Aries and Pisces, is at opposition on the 24th, when it will be at its nearest to us and due south at midnight (GMT/UT), just four days before the end of British Summer Time.


Neptune in Aquarius sets about 4 a.m..


The Draconid meteor shower peaks on the night of 8th/9th October, with no Moon to spoil it, and may be unusually active because its parent comet, Giacobini-Zinner, passed Earth in September at its closest for 72 years. The comet will still be visible in binoculars near the bright star Capella in Auriga, for the first half of the month. It was the first comet to be visited by space probe when the International Comet Explorer passed through its tail in 1986, up-Sun from where the European, Japanese and Russian probes were converging on Halley’s Comet. The Orionid meteor shower from Halley’s Comet itself peaks on 21st/22nd October, but will be spoiled by the nearly Full Moon.


 “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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