Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday December 11th through Sunday December 17th.
The moon was at third quarter on Sunday the 10th and will be new on Monday December 18th, so we'll have a waning crescent moon for all of this week.
Mercury is in inferior conjunction with the sun late on Tuesday the 12th when it will pass between the earth and the sun and then re-emerge into our morning skies.
Saturn is headed towards conjunction next week so it is now setting just half an hour after the sun at midweek.
Soon all of the planets visible without a telescope will be in our morning skies when Mercury and Saturn join Mars, Jupiter, and Venus.
Mars is rising at 3:30 a.m. at midweek followed by Jupiter at 4:15 a.m. and Venus at 6:50 a.m. Look for a thin crescent moon above Mars on the morning of the 13th and near Jupiter on the 14th.
The Geminids meteor shower peaks in the morning hours of Thursday December 14th and will have little interference from moonlight this year. The meteors will appear to come from a point in the constellation Gemini and are caused when the earth passes through the debris associated with the asteroid 3200 Phaethon. The Geminids are often a reliably active shower and this year is no exception with the peak expected to average a couple of meteors a minute.
In space anniversaries this week, after last week's 45th anniversary of the launch of the Apollo 17 mission, this week marks the 45th anniversary of the landing of the spacecraft on the moon on December 11th. Three days later, the mission would leave the moon and astronaut Gene Cernan would be the last human to walk on the lunar surface after following Harrison Schmitt into the Lunar Module. The crew safely returned to the Earth on December 19, 1972.
Public viewing on UT campus telescopes has finished for the Fall 2017 semester. Spring semester viewing will start in the latter half of January 2018.
Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers Report.