The Sky Above You – August 2017


By Duncan Lunan



The Moon will be Full on August 7th, and New on August 21st. Overnight on 15/16th August the Moon passes through the Hyades Open Cluster in Taurus, occulting a number of stars but not the brightest one, Aldebaran. The Moon occults Aldebaran in daylight, two hours after sunrise, visible only with telescopes.0


The planet Mercury is next visible in September, in the morning sky, when it joins Mars near Regulus in Leo.


In August Venus rises at 2.30 a.m. and passes Castor and Pollux in Gemini on the 25th. The Moon is near Venus on the morning of August 19th.


Mars returns to the morning sky in September, in Leo, after being hidden behind the Sun since May. Superior conjunction was on July 27th, and from July 22nd to August 1st NASA sent no commands to its spacecraft orbiting Mars or on the planet, in case the signals might be corrupted passing the Sun.


Jupiter in Virgo sets at 10 p.m. in August, and the Moon appears near Jupiter on August 25th. NASA’s Juno probe continues to send back spectacular images of the planet, including closeups of the Great Red Spot in July which revealed it to have a labyrinthine structure, though it isn’t solid but a huge storm twice the size of the Earth. Although the GRS sits proud of the surrounding cloud belt and is therefore colder, some unknown mechanism is heating the upper atmosphere above it.


Saturn is in Ophiucus, setting at 1 a.m. in August. The Moon appears near it on 2nd and 3rd August.


Uranus in Pisces rises at 10 p.m. in August, near the stars omicron Piscium, and Neptune in Aquarius rises at 9 p.m..


There’s a partial eclipse of the Moon on August 7th, ending just before it rises in the UK. Unfortunately, that means that the Perseid meteor shower, peaking over 12th to 14th August, will be spoiled by moonlight from midnight on, when the meteors would otherwise be more frequent. 14 days later on the other side of the Moon’s orbit, there will be a total eclipse of the Sun across North America on the 21st, visible from Newport, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina, expected to be one of the most observed eclipses in history.


Comet 2015 ER61 passes below the Pleiades on the 18th, close to the fifth-magnitude star HIP 177776 Tau. The small but potentially hazardous asteroid 3122 Florence passes through Capricornus, Aquarius and Delphinus during August 30th to 3rd September, at its brightest on the 31st but closest the following night, when it will be midway between Sadalmelik in Aquarius and Altair in Aquila. 8 million kilometres from Earth, at its closest, it will be visible in powerful binoculars.


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