Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday December 13th through Sunday January 2nd.
The moon is at first quarter on Monday December 13th and will be full in the morning hours of Tuesday December 21st. The moon will be at third quarter on Tuesday December 28th.
The Geminid Meteor Showers peaks in the early morning hours of Tuesday the 14th. 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. At its peak the Geminids can produce up to 120 meteors an hour.
The full moon for the month of December is known as the Long Night Moon or the Moon Before Yule. This full moon will also have a lunar eclipse for some viewers, including those of us here in Central Texas. The partial phase of the eclipse will start at 12:33 a.m. Central Time on the morning of the 21st. Totality begins at 1:41 a.m. and ends at 2:53 a.m. and the partial eclipse ends at 4:01 a.m.
Also on Tuesday the 21st is the winter solstice when the sun will reach its farthest point south of the celestial equator for those of us in the northern hemisphere giving us the shortest day and longest night of the year. For the southern hemisphere, the opposite occurs and they have the summer solstice and the longest day and shortest night of the year.
You may be able to catch Mercury and Mars close to one another low in the southwest shortly after sunset for the first few evenings of the week of the 13th. Mercury will be sinking lower each evening until it is in inferior conjunction with the Sun on the 20th and passes back in to the morning skies. Mars is setting around 6:15 p.m. for most of the next three weeks.
Look for the Moon and Jupiter to pair up on the night of the 13th. Jupiter will be setting around midnight for the remainder of the year. Jupiter and Uranus are once again moving close to one another at will be separated by just over half a degree on January 2nd. This will put them in to the same field of view for many binoculars and small telescopes.
Saturn is rising at 2 a.m. at mid-December but will be up at around 1 a.m. by the start of the new year. Look for the moon to pair up with Saturn on the mornings of the 28th and 29th.
Venus is rising at about 4 a.m. for the remainder of the year. Look for a thin crescent moon alongside Venus before sunrise on the last day of the year.
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 and have a happy and safe holiday season.