Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers' Report for Monday January 5th through Sunday the 11th.
The full moon for the month of January, and the first of 2009, is Saturday night. This full moon is known as the Wolf Moon, the Old Moon and the Moon after Yule. This full moon also occurs close to the time when the moon is at perigee – its closet point to the Earth – there will be higher than average tides. This full moon will also have the largest angular size of any this year.
Many planets are still clustered near the sun. Jupiter is now very low in the southwest and it setting about an hour after the sun. Mercury is a bit above Jupiter and will start sinking back towards the sun this week. It is currently setting at 7:15 p.m. A little above Mercury is Neptune, but you will need a telescope and finder chart to see it. Venus is the brightest of the planets in the southwest at nightfall and is currently at magnitude -4.3 Uranus is the highest of the grouping, but you will need at least binoculars to see it.
Saturn is all by itself in the eastern skies and is rising at 10:30 p.m. at midweek. Mars is starting to emerge from conjunction with the sun, but is still very close, rising just over half an hour after the sun.
On January 4th of this year, the Mars Rover Spirit celebrated its 5th year on Mars and on January 25th, its twin Opportunity will also have reached the 5-year mark, far exceeding their original 90-day mission plan. The Viking 1 lander still holds the Mars surface study record at over 6 years of operation. You can find out more about Spirit and Opportunity and see 5 years’ worth of their photos from Mars at marsrovers.nasa.gov
Public viewing on UT campus will resume in late January. Please call back for more details in a few weeks.
Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers' Report and Happy New Year!