skywatchers report

Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers' Report for Monday March 22nd to Sunday March 28th.

The moon is at first quarter on Tuesday the 23rd and we will have a waxing gibbous moon for the remainder of the week.

Mars is high in the east in the early evenings. Look for Mars just below the moon on Wednesday the 24th and above the moon on Thursday the 25th. Mars and Earth had their closest approach to one another two months ago and the red planet has already shrunk from an angular size of 14 arcseconds to just under 10 arcseconds. For comparison, Mars' angular size at its historic close approach in 2003 was 25 arcseconds.

Saturn is at opposition on Monday the 22nd, so it will rise at sunset and be visible all night long. Saturn's rings are now slowly starting to tilt back into better view after last year's ring plane crossing. Over in the western skies shortly after sunset, look for Venus shining brightly low due west. Mercury is slowly climbing higher each evening and will have a close approach to Venus in early April.

Jupiter is rising 45 minutes before the sun at midweek as it slowly moves away from the sun after conjunction.

Last week the Messenger spacecraft marked one year until its orbital insertion at Mercury. The spacecraft launched on August 3, 2004 and has been taking a very convoluted path in order to set itself up to go in to orbit at Mercury. It has already made three flybys of the innermost planet and will become the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury starting March 18, 2011. You can learn more about the mission at messenger.jhuapl.edu

Public viewing at the 16-inch reflector on top of Robert Lee Moore Hall is on Wednesday nights now from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. RLM is located on the southeast corner of Dean Keeton and Speedway. Take the elevator to the 17th floor and follow the signs to the telescope.

Public viewing at the 9 inch refractor at Painter Hall is on Friday and Saturday nights now from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. Painter Hall is located on 24th street about halfway between Speedway and Guadalupe and is northeast of the UT Tower. To get to the telescope, take the elevator to the 5th floor and exit to the left. Follow the 5th floor hallway to the end and take the staircase through the double doors on the left. Once you reach the 6th floor, go to your right and follow the signs up to the telescope.

All events are free and open to all ages and no reservations are required. Note that viewing times and availability change throughout the year. Observing events are weather permitting. Please call 232-4265 for weather cancellation information, which is updated 30 to 60 minutes before the scheduled viewing start time when a viewing is cancelled.

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