skywatchers report

Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday January 3 to Sunday January 9th.

The moon is new in the early morning hours of Tuesday the 4th. The last full moon also had a lunar eclipse and the Sun, Earth and Moon are still lined up enough for some parts of Earth to see a partial solar eclipse with this new moon. The eclipse will be visible in Central Asia, the Middle East, northern Africa and almost all of Europe. The sun will be eclipsed as much as 85% in northern Sweden and observers in Western Europe will see an eclipsed sunrise.

For the remainder of the week, we will have a waxing crescent moon in the western skies after sunset.

On Monday the 3rd, the Earth is at perihelion, its closet point to the sun, at a distance of 147 million kilometers or about 91.5 million miles. The Earth will be at aphelion on July 4th, where it will be 152 million kilometers or 94.5 million miles away from the sun.

Mars is setting just half an hour after the sun and is not currently visible. Jupiter and Uranus are still close to one another and are high in the southwest as the sky darkens. They set at 11:15 p.m. at midweek. The crescent moon will be alongside them on the 9th. Saturn is rising at about 12:30 a.m. this week, followed by Venus at 4 a.m. and Mercury at 5:45 a.m. Venus is at its greatest elongation west on the 8th and Mercury is at its greatest elongation west on the 9th.

The Quadrantid meteor shower peaks on Monday night in to Tuesday morning, with the best viewing in the hours before dawn on Tuesday. The meteors will appear to come from a point near the end of the Big Dipper, part of the constellation Ursa Major. This shower can sometimes produce over 100 meteors an hour and this year will be good for viewing since there will be no interference from moonlight.

Tuesday January 4th marks the seventh anniversary of the landing of the Mars Exploration Rover "Spirit". The rover is currently asleep and has not communicated with Earth since March of 2010. Controllers continue to listen for a signal from the rover which could wake back up after its solar panels start to receive more light in March of this year. Meanwhile, "Spirit's" twin "Opportunity" continues to work on the Martian surface and recently approached the crater Santa Maria. You can keep up with the mission at marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov

Public viewing on UT telescopes will resume in late January. Stay tuned for information on the exact starting dates and times.

Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers Report and Happy New Year!