Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday November 21st through Sunday November 27th.
The new moon for the month of November is on Friday the 25th so we will have a waning crescent moon in the morning skies for most of this week and a thin crescent moon in the evening skies for the weekend. During this new moon there will be the fourth and final partial solar eclipse of 2011. This eclipse will be at its greatest in Antarctica, but will also be visible from the southernmost points of Africa, most of Tasmania and most of New Zealand.
Mercury is now starting to move back towards the sun and is setting at 6:30 p.m. at midweek. Venus is visible as a very bright star-like object in the southwest in the early evening and is setting at about 7:15 p.m. this week. Look for the very thin crescent moon beneath Venus on Saturday.
Jupiter is high in the east after sunset and sets a little before 5 a.m. so it is visible for most of the night. Mars is up at around 12:30 a.m. and Saturn is rising at 4 a.m. Look for the crescent moon and Saturn together low in the east before dawn on the morning of the 22nd.
The launch of the Mars Science Laboratory, dubbed Curiosity, has been set for the morning of Saturday November 26th. The mission will take about 8 months to get to Mars and will land on the Red Planet in an interesting combination of methods. Small rockets will direct the spacecraft towards landing and then will be slowed by parachutes, similar to the previous Viking missions. Unlike the three previous rovers which used airbags to land, the Curiosity rover will be lowered from its entry vehicle by a sky crane to a soft landing, wheels down, on Mars. Curiosity will explore the area around Gale Crater and look for signs of past life on Mars, characterize the past and current climate and geology of Mars and gather information for future human exploration. You can follow the launch and learn more about the mission at mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl
There will be no UT campus public telescope viewing this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday. Next week will be the final week of star parties for the fall semester.
Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers Report and have a happy Thanksgiving weekend.