skywatchers report

Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday December 12th through Sunday December 18th.

The moon is at third quarter on the night of Saturday the 18th so we will have a waning gibbous moon for almost all of this week.

Although the view wasn't good here in Austin, other parts of the Earth did get the chance to observe the lunar eclipse from last Saturday. See spaceweather.com for a gallery of photographs of the event.

Venus continues to shine brightly in the west-southwest after sundown and sets at 7:45 p.m. at midweek. Jupiter is now high in the south by 9 p.m. and sets at 3:20 a.m. at midweek. Mars is up at around 11:30 p.m. at midweek and Saturn is rising a little before 3 a.m. Mercury is now rising about an hour and a half before the sun.

The Geminid meteor shower peaks this week on the nights of the 13th and 14th, but the waning gibbous moon will interfere with viewing. Most meteor showers come from the earth passing through debris left by comets, but the Geminids are different in that they are associated with the asteroid Phaethon. The shower gets its name because the meteors appear to radiate from a point in the constellation Gemini the Twins, which is above the east-northeastern horizon by 8 p.m.

On December 2nd, the New Horizons spacecraft became the closest spacecraft to approach Pluto, even though it is still three and a half years away from its flyby of the dwarf planet. The previous record-holder was Voyager 1, which came within 958 million miles of Pluto in 1986 before continuing out to the edge of the solar system where it continues to do important science. New Horizons meanwhile is continuing to get closer to Pluto and is now between the orbits of Uranus and Neptune. You can learn more about the mission at pluto.jhuapl.edu

Public viewing on UT campus telescopes has finished for the fall semester. Spring semester viewing will start in late January 2012.

Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers Report.