Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday March 14th through Sunday March 20.
The moon is at first quarter on Tuesday March 15 so we'll start the week with a waxing crescent moon and then have a waxing gibbous moon for the remainder of the week.
The spring equinox for the northern hemisphere occurs at 4:30 a.m. Universal Time on Sunday March 20, which is 11:30 p.m. on the night of March 19th here in central Texas. On the equinox, the run rises due east and sets due west and the amount of daylight and nighttime are roughly equal. For the northern hemisphere the amount of daylight will continue to grow until we hit the summer solstice in June.
After last week's opposition, Jupiter is now rising at 6:45 p.m. and it will be fairly high in the east by 9 p.m. This month is a good time to look out for multiple shadows of Jupiter's moons crossing the planet's clouds.
Mars is rising at 12:40 a.m. at midweek, followed by Saturn at 1:35 a.m.
Venus is rising at 6:45 a.m., a little less than an hour before sunrise, so you should still be able to find it before the sky brightens too much at dawn. Mercury is now lost in the sun's glare as it heads towards conjunction next week.
The European Space Agency's ExoMars spacecraft is scheduled to launch on Monday March 14 from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. This mission will include the Trace Gas Orbiter and the Schiaparelli Entry, Descent, and Landing Demonstrator module which will land on Meridiana Planum. The second half of the ExoMars mission will launch in two years at the next favorable orbital window and will include the ExoMars rover. You can follow the launch and mission online at exploration.eso.int/Mars.
In space anniversaries this week, March 17 marks the 5th anniversary of the MESSENGER spacecraft entering orbit around Mercury, becoming the first mission to do so. The mission ended in April 2015 after four years of studying the innermost planet.
There will be no public viewing on UT campus telescopes this week due to Spring Break. All star party times will move to 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. starting the week of March 21st due to the change to Daylight Saving Time.
Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers Report.