skywatchers report

Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers' Report for Monday January 7th through Sunday the 13th.

The first new moon of the new year is on Tuesday the 8th.

Venus is still shining brightly as the “morning star”, rising at 4:45 a.m., almost three hours before the sun. Jupiter is starting to emerge into the morning skies, although it is only rising about 45 minutes before the sun at the beginning of the week.

Mercury has re-emerged into the evening skies but is still pretty low in the skies after the sun has set. Look for a very slim crescent moon above Mercury low in the southwest on the 9th. Saturn is rising at about 9:15 p.m. this week and is pretty high by around midnight. Saturn will be at opposition at the end of February.

Mars is fairly high up in the eastern skies by 7 p.m. This month marks the fourth Earth year anniversary of the landings of the Mars Rovers “Spirit” and “Opportunity”. “Spirit” landed on January 3rd, 2004, followed by its twin “Opportunity” on January 25th, 2004. You can follow the rovers and see all their amazing pictures of the Red Planet at marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov

In other Mars news, some of you may have heard that there is a chance that a small asteroid will impact Mars on January 30th. The original odds were 1 in 75, which were then reduced to 1 in 25. New observations have set the odds of an impact at 1 in 28. While the odds are far better than with most potential impacts, there is still a 96% change that the impact won’t happen. However, if the impact does occur, the new crater on Mars formed by the impact is expected to be about half a mile wide. The NASA Near Earth Object Program will continue to track the asteroid and update impact probabilities as needed. You can follow the program at neo.jpl.nasa.gov

NASA is now hoping to launch the space shuttle on January 24th, after the launch planned for late last year was delayed due to problems with a fuel sensor.

And last but not least, on January 4th, a high latitude, reversed-polarity sunspot emerged on the sun, marking the beginning of solar cycle 24. Over the next few years, sunspot and other solar activity will gradually increase as we head toward the next solar maximum in roughly 6 years. You can follow the current solar activity at spaceweather.com

Public viewing is currently on hiatus. Star parties will resume in a couple of weeks. Please call back later for starting dates and times.

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