skywatchers report

Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers' Report for Monday January 14th through Monday the 21st

The moon is at first quarter on Tuesday the 15th.

Five planets are currently within 35 degrees of either side of the sun, but several  of them can be seen around sunrise and sunset. Mercury is still setting a little later each night and can be seen shortly after sunset in the southwest. Neptune is a little above Mercury, but will be difficult to see with a telescope in the evening twilight. In the morning skies, Venus, Pluto and Jupiter are visible before the sun rises. Venus is rising at 5 a.m. and Jupiter follows at 6 a.m. Pluto is in between these two bright planets, but you would need a large telescope to find it in the morning skies.

Mars is well up in the east at 7 p.m. and is almost directly overhead at around 10 p.m. Look for the moon and Mars together on the night of the 19th. Saturn is rising at 9 p.m. this week.

This Monday, the Messenger spacecraft will fly-by the planet Mercury – the first time the innermost planet has been visited by a spacecraft since 1975. The spacecraft will fly by the planet three times before orbital insertion in March 2011. Messenger launched in 2004 and has had a very complicated trip to Mercury. The spacecraft still has to slow down relative to Mercury, which will be accomplished over the next three years. The team has already released a few pictures of Mercury as the spacecraft approached the planet which you can see on their website: messenger.jhuapl.edu

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. Observations late last week reduced the odds to 1 in 10,000, which pretty much guarantees that an impact won’t occur.

Public viewing will resume next week. Please call back next week for starting dates and times.

Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers' Report.