The Sky Above You – September 2021
By Duncan Lunan
The Moon will be New on September 7th, and Full on September 21st, the day before the Autumn equinox. The crescent Moon will be near Venus on the 10th . On the 25th the waning Moon will be below the Pleiades, and to the left of the Hyades cluster and Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus, on the 26th.
The planet Mercury is below Venus to the right, very low in the early evening sky, and at its greatest elongation from the Sun on the 14th. The very thin crescent Moon is near Mercury on the 9th.
Venus is low in the west, still near Spica in Virgo, setting at 8.30 pm. Venus is to the left of the Moon and closest to it on the 9th. Unusually, there were consecutive flybys of Venus on August 9th and 10th, by ESA’s Solar Observer and its BepiColombo Mercury spacecraft. Both flybys were for course corrections, but it will be interesting to see what data they picked up.
Mars is behind the Sun, no longer visible and in conjunction with the Sun next month. After its planned five test flights, the Ingenuity helicopter is now acting seriously as a scout for the Perseverance rover, and has completed its twelfth and longest flight checking out rough terrain ahead of them both.
Jupiter is moving westward in Capricornus and sets around 4 am, passed by the Moon on September 17th and 18th. Earth is still close to Jupiter’s equatorial plane and there will be more transits of its major moons across the face of the planet – details are in the September issue of Astronomy Now. NASA’s Juno probe has passed the 10th anniverary of its launch, on August 5th, 2011. The mission was to have ended in 2016 with very close approaches to the planet, but due to a problem with the propulsion system, it remains in orbit over Jupiter’s poles and is now making close passes of Jupiter’s large moons, with Europa next in its sights. Juno now has a ‘go’ for at least 44 more orbits, extending the missions to 2025 at least.
Saturn in mid-Capricornus, to the right of Jupiter, sets at 2.30 am, passed by the Moon on the 16th.
Uranus in Aries rises at 9 pm. Uranus is near the Moon on the 24th.
Neptune is in the sky all night, in Aquarius near the boundary with Pisces, and is at opposition, nearest the Earth and due south at midnight GMT, on September 14th.
Duncan Lunan’s most recent book, The Other Side of the Interface, was published by Other Side Books at the beginning of the year, and is available through Amazon or through bookshops, or from the publishers. For details and for his other books see 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 and Orkney News. Enquries from other outlets welcomed!
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.