Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday December 19th, 2016 through Sunday January 1st, 2017.
We begin the last two weeks of 2016 with a waning gibbous moon and then we will reach third quarter late on Tuesday the 20th. We will then have a waning crescent moon until we reach the final new moon of 2016 in the early hours of Thursday the 29th.
The winter solstice for the northern hemisphere occurs at 4:44 a.m. on Wednesday December 21st here in the US central time zone. This is the date of shortest overall daylight and longest night of the year when the sun makes its shortest and lowest arc across the sky. From here out the days will start to gradually lengthen until we hit the northern hemisphere summer solstice in June.
Mercury will sink towards the sun every evening until it is at inferior conjunction with the sun on the 28th. Mercury will then move between the earth and the sun and pass into our morning skies to start 2017.
Venus will be visible shining brightly in the southwest to finish the year. Venus will set at 9:00 p.m. on the 19th and 9:20 p.m. by the 31st.
Mars is a little higher than Venus in the southwest and is setting at 10:20 p.m. on the 19th and 10:15 p.m. at the end of the year. If you have a telescope, you can see Neptune in the same field of view with Mars on the night of Dec. 31st.
Jupiter rises at 2:05 a.m. on the 19th and 1:25 a.m. by the 31st. Look for the crescent moon near Jupiter in the morning hours of the 22nd.
Saturn is still emerging from the sun's glare after conjunction and is rising at 6:35 a.m. on the 19th and 6:00 a.m. on the 31st, about an hour and a half before the sun rises.
Public viewing on UT campus telescopes has finished for the fall semester. Spring semester viewing will start 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 and safe holiday season.