Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday May 9 to Sunday May 15th.
The moon is at first quarter on Tuesday the 10th, so we will have a waxing gibbous moon for most of this week.
Saturn continues to be the main planet to observe this week and is high in the southeast as darkness falls. Saturn is setting at about 5 a.m. so it is still visible most of the night.
Even if you aren't an early riser, it is worth getting up a little before the sun to see a clustering of four of the naked-eye planets in the east before dawn. The two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, will drift towards each other for the first few days this week and then slowly move apart. At their closest Venus and Jupiter will be about half a degree apart, putting them in the same field of view for binoculars and small telescopes. Fainter Mercury and Mars join the brighter planets to form the early morning quartet.
The Mars rover Opportunity continues her trek towards Endeavour crater and imaged some small, relatively young craters on the red planet last week. The team of scientists and engineers informally named one of the craters "Freedom 7" in honor of the 50th anniversary of Alan Shepard's mission as the first American in space. Meanwhile, the Spirit rover on the other side of Mars continues to remain silent and has not communicated with Earth for over a year, although efforts continue to try to reach the spacecraft. You can learn more about the Mars Rovers and the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory "Curiosity" at mars.jpl.nasa.gov
The Space Shuttle Endeavour is now scheduled to lift-off on its final mission no sooner than Monday May 16th after delays due to a problem with a fuel line for one of the Auxiliary Power Units. NASA managers also extended the mission to 16 days. Endeavour will dock with the International Space Station to deliver, among other things, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a particle physics experiment that will be mounted on the ISS. You can learn more about the mission at www.nasa.gov
Telescope public nights have finished for the spring semester. Summer viewing will start in early June, so please check back in a few weeks for details on starting dates and times.
Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers Report.