Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday December 17th, 2018 through Sunday January 6th, 2019.
The full moon for the month of December is on Saturday the 22nd. This full moon is known as the Long Night Moon and the Moon Before Yule. After reaching full, the moon will be in a waning gibbous phase until it hits third quarter early on Saturday the 29th. After that, the moon will be a waning crescent in the early morning skies until it reaches New Moon on Saturday January 5th.
The Winter Solstice for the northern hemisphere occurs at 10:23 p.m. on Friday December 21st for the US central time zone. This is the point where the sun reaches its farthest point south of the celestial equator and cuts the smallest arc through our skies, creating the day with the shortest amount of daylight. From this day on the amount of daylight will increase until we reach the summer solstice in June.
Mars will remain high in the south at sundown as we close out 2018 and start into 2019. Mars will set a little after midnight on December 17th and will set at 11:45 p.m. by January 6th.
Saturn will start the new year in conjunction with the sun and then will slowly move away from the sun as we start into January.
The rest of the naked-eye planets are all up in the morning skies. Venus rises a little before 4 a.m. for the remainder of the year. Jupiter rises at 6:05 a.m. on December 17th and is up at 5:05 a.m. by January 6th as it continues to move away from the sun after conjunction. Mercury is sinking back towards the sun as we finish the year and is rising at 5:40 a.m. on December 17th and is up at 6:30 a.m. by January 6th. Mercury and Jupiter will be very close to one another on the mornings of Dec. 21st and 22nd.
The first eclipse of 2019 is a partial solar eclipse that occurs on January 6th for northeast Asia and the northern Pacific. The only parts North America that will see any of the eclipse will be far western Alaska and the Aleutian Islands.
In space anniversaries, December 21-27 marks 50 years since the first human spaceflight to the moon with the Apollo 8 mission. The famous "Earthrise" photo was taken during this mission as the crew orbited the moon. And 15 years ago on January 3rd, the "Spirit" rover landed on Mars, a few weeks before its twin "Opportunity".
Public viewing on UT campus telescopes has finished for the fall semester. Spring semester viewing will begin in late January. Please check back for details on starting dates and times.
Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers Report and have a Happy New Year!