Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday December 15th, 2014 through Sunday January 4th, 2015.
The moon will be new for the last time in 2014 on the night of Sunday the 21st and will reach first quarter on Sunday the 28th. The first full moon of 2015 will occur on January 4th. The full moon of January is known as the Old Moon, the Moon After Yule, and the Wolf Moon.
The winter solstice for the northern hemisphere is at 5:03 p.m. Central Standard Time on Sunday December 21st, marking the day with the shortest amount of sunlight. For the southern hemisphere it will be the summer solstice and the day with the greatest amount of sunlight.
Mercury will slowly climb away from the sun over the next three weeks as it heads towards greatest elongation early in the new year. On December 17th, it will set about 15 minutes after the sun, and by the 24th it will set about 40 minutes after the sun. On December 31st, Mercury will set almost an hour after the sun and will be easier to pick out from the evening twilight.
Venus is up a bit higher than Mercury as will be easier to spot in the early evening skies. Venus is setting at 6:25 p.m. on December 17th, at 6:40 p.m. on the 24th and at 6:55 p.m. on December 31st.
Mars is still visible in southwestern skies at nightfall and is setting a little before 9 p.m. for the remainder of the year. Look for the thin waxing crescent moon alongside Mars on the night of the 24th.
Over in the eastern skies, Jupiter is rising at 9:45 p.m. on December 17th, at 9:15 p.m. on the 24th, and at 8:45 p.m. on December 31st, making Jupiter a prime early evening target to start 2015.
Saturn is now the lone early morning planet, rising at 5:15 a.m. on the 17th, at 4:55 a.m. on the 24th, and at 4:30 a.m. on the 31st. A very thin waning crescent moon will be alongside Saturn on the morning of December 19th.
Public viewing on UT campus telescopes will resume 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.