skywatchers report

Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday January 2 through Sunday January 8.

The first full moon of 2023 occurs on Friday the 6th, so we’ll begin the week with a waxing gibbous moon and then have a waning gibbous moon for the weekend. The full moon of January is known as the Old Moon, the Wolf Moon, and the Moon after Yule.

Mercury is sinking back towards the sun after greatest elongation back on December 21 and is now setting just 20 minutes after sunset at midweek.

Venus continues to move away from the sun and is now setting an hour and 20 minutes after sunset so you should be able to see it low in the west as darkness falls.

Saturn is low in the west-southwest at 7 p.m. and is setting at 8:40 p.m. at midweek. Jupiter is high in the southwest at 7 p.m. and is setting at 11:40 p.m.

Mars is high in the east as the sky darkens and is setting at 5 a.m. Mars is now at magnitude –1.1 in brightness and 14 arcseconds in size now that our two planets are a month past their closest approach to one another. Look for Mars next to the moon on Tuesday night.

The Earth is at perihelion, it’s closest point to the sun in its orbit, on Wednesday the 4th. On that day Earth will be 147.1 million kilometers away from the sun, compared to 152.1 million kilometers at aphelion in July.

The Quadrantids meteor shower peaks on the night of the 3rd into the morning of the 4th but unfortunately this year’s shower will have a lot of interference from the waxing gibbous moon. The shower appears to come from a point near the end of the handle of the Big Dipper and can produce over 120 meteors an hour in favorable conditions. The parent body of the debris that causes this shower is not confirmed but may be 2003 EH1, a minor planet that is possibly a dead comet.

In space anniversaries this week, Friday January 6 marks 55 years since the launch of the Surveyor 7 to the moon, the final mission of the Surveyor program. The spacecraft landed on January 10 and operated for about six weeks. The Surveyor program was designed to explore soft landings on the moon and the lunar terrain in preparation for the later Apollo missions.

Spring 2023 semester public viewing on UT campus telescopes will resume soon. Please check back for details on starting dates and times.

Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers Report and Happy New Year!