Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers' Report for Monday December 15th 2008 through January 4th, 2009

The moon is at last quarter on December 19th and the final new moon of 2008 will occur on December 27th. The moon will be at first quarter on January 4th of the new year.

The winter solstice occurs at 6:04 a.m. on Sunday December 21st marking the shortest day of the year. This is the day when the sun reaches its farthest point south of the celestial equator and cuts is smallest arc across the sky, giving us the shortest day and longest night. Of course for our friends in the southern hemisphere, the opposite is true and they will have their longest day of the year.

Mercury will be a little higher each evening until it reaches its greatest elongation on January 4th. Jupiter is sinking lower each evening and will be setting by 7 p.m. at the end of the year. Look for Mercury and Jupiter close to one another low in the southwest for the last few days in 2008. The crescent moon will be below the pair on the 28th and above on the 29th.

Venus is very bright in the southwestern skies and will be joined by the crescent moon on December 31st. Mars is still very close to the sun as it emerges from conjunction and it will be rising half an hour before the sun on January 4th. Saturn is rising just a little after midnight on December 15th, by 11:30 p.m. on the 25th and around 10:45 p.m. by January 4th.

After moonlight interfered with some of the biggest meteor showers of 2008, we start 2009 with favorable conditions for the first big shower of the year – the Quadrantids. The maximum activity is predicted to be in the morning hours of Saturday January 3rd. The predicted peak activity of about 120 meteors an hour favors western North America and the Pacific.

The United Nations declared 2009 to be the International Year of Astronomy as part of an initiative by the International Astronomical Union and UNESCO. The year will be a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first observations with an astronomical telescope. You can learn more about worldwide celebrations at astronomy2009.org. Closer to home, you can find out more about events around Texas at mcdonaldobservatory.org/iya

Public viewing on university campus telescopes has finished for the year. Viewing will resume in late January 2009.

Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers' Report.

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