Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday December 19th, 2011 through Monday January 2nd, 2012.

The moon is new on Saturday December 24th and will reach first quarter on the first day of 2012.

Venus continues to climb in the western skies and is visible for a little longer each evening. On Monday December 19th it sets at 7:50 p.m. and by December 26th it is setting at 8:05p.m. By January 1st Venus is setting at 8:20 p.m.

Jupiter is still high in the south at around 8 p.m. and is setting at 3 a.m. on December 20th, 2:35 a.m. on December 26th and 2:10 a.m. on January 1st.

Mars is moving towards opposition in early March and will soon be back in our early evening skies. Mars rises at 11:30 p.m. on December 19th, 11:15 p.m. on the 26th and is rising a little before 11 p.m. on January 1st.

Next up is Saturn, which is rising at 2:40 a.m. on December 20th. Look for Saturn, the waning gibbous moon and Spica forming a triangle that morning. Saturn is up by 2:15 a.m. on December 26th and is up at 1:55 a.m. on January 1st.

Finally, Mercury will reach its greatest elongation west on the morning of the 23rd and then will slowly sink back towards the sun. Mercury is rising at 5:40 a.m. on December 19th, 5:45 a.m. on December 26th and 6 a.m. on January 1st.

The winter solstice for the northern hemisphere occurs on December 22nd at 5:30 a.m. Universal Time, which is 11:30 p.m. of December 21st in the US central time zone. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, the sun will rise at its farthest point south of east and set at its farthest point south of west, making it the shortest amount of daylight of the year. For our friends in the southern hemisphere, the opposite is the case and they will have the greatest amount of daylight for the year.

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 and have a Happy New Year.

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