Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday December 6th through Sunday December 12th.
The moon was new on Sunday the 5th and reaches first quarter on Monday the 13th, so we will have a waxing crescent moon in the early evening skies all of this week.
On Monday, if you have a good view of the western horizon, look for a thin sliver of a crescent moon and the planets Mercury and Mars shortly after sunset. Mars will be just below the Moon and both will set around 6:30 p.m. Mercury is a little higher and will set at 6:50 p.m. on Monday.
Jupiter is high in the south at 7 p.m. this week and Uranus is still close by at about 3 degrees to Jupiter's upper left. Saturn is rising at about 2:15 a.m. at midweek and Venus is rising a little before 4 a.m.
Although they don't peak until early next week, you should be able to start picking up activity of the Geminid meteor shower this week. The Geminids are thought to be unique among the regular meteor showers because they are caused by the earth encountering particles from 3200 Phaethon, which is thought to be a Palladian asteroid. All other meteor showers are associated with comets. The meteors appear to radiate from a point in the constellation Gemini, which is well above the horizon by 10 p.m. With the moon setting early this week, the skies will be dark and favorable for meteor watching. At its peak the Geminids can produce up to 120 meteors an hour.
Space Shuttle managers have moved the anticipated final launch of Discovery to February of 2011 so they can continue work on cracks detected on the foam insulation on the shuttles orange-colored external tank. Because of this shift, the date of the final shuttle launch has now moved to no earlier than April 1st 2011. You can follow the latest news from NASA at www.nasa.gov
Public viewing on UT telescopes has finished for the Fall 2010 semester. Viewing will resume in late January. Stay tuned for information on the exact starting dates and times.
Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers Report.