The Sky Above You – September 2020


By Duncan Lunan



The Moon is Full on September 2nd, and it will be New on September 17th.


The planet Mercury is too near the Sun to be visible in September.


At the beginning of September Venus is below Castor and Pollux in Gemini, very bright in the morning sky, and it passes Praesepe in Cancer on September 13th and 14th, with the Moon nearby on the 14th. By the end of the month Venus is in Leo, above and to the right of Regulus, the brightest star in Leo.


Mars is in Pisces, brighter than Saturn, not yet as bright as Jupiter, but getting near it in September. Mars rises at 8.30 p.m., back on our map, in September, near the Moon on the night of September 5-6th, and occulted by it as seen from South America. On September 9th it comes to its ‘stationary point’ in anticipation of opposition next month, and from then on it will move retrograde (east to west) against the stars as the Earth draws level with it.


New probes to Mars have successfully been launched by the USA, China and the United Arab Emirates, so there will be a great deal of activity when they arrive next year. Europe’s Exomars lander ‘Rosalind Franklin’, named after the pioneer of DNA crystallography, has been delayed due to problems caused by the coronavirus outbreak and will not now be launched until the next opposition between Earth and Mars, in two years’ time.


Jupiter sets soon after midnight in September. On 4-5th September the large satellite Europa will cross Jupiter’s disc, above the Great Red Spot, with Europa’s shadow following to the left. Jupiter comes to its stationary point on September 13th, after opposition in July, and the Moon appears near Jupiter on September 24th.


Saturn is close to Jupiter throughout this quarter, setting at 1.00 a.m. in September, and is at its stationary point on September 29th after its opposition, also in July. The Moon is near Saturn on September 29th.


Uranus in Aries rises about 8.30 p.m. in September, moving retrograde (east to west) before its opposition to the Earth next month. Uranus is near the Moon on September 7th.


Neptune in Aquarius is in the sky all night in September, coming to opposition, due south at midnight GMT, on September 11th. Neptune is near the Moon on September 2nd and 30th.



Duncan Lunan’s latest book “From the Moon to the Stars”, a collection of space travel stories old and new relating to the Moon and Project Apollo, illustrated by Sydney Jordan, is now available from the publishers at https://othersidebooks.wordpress.com, as well as on Amazon or through booksellers; details of that and his other books 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 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.





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