skywatchers report

Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday January 4th through Sunday January 10th.

The moon starts the week in the waning gibbous phase until it reaches third quarter on Wednesday morning and then we’ll have a waning crescent moon in the early morning skies for the remainder of the week.

Jupiter and Saturn are still close to one another after their conjunction a few weeks ago and are now quite low in the west-southwest after sunset. Mercury is moving higher in the sky after its last conjunction with the Sun and will be within a few degrees of Jupiter and Saturn by the weekend. All three planets will be setting about an hour after the Sun by the latter half of the week.

Mars is high in the south-southeast shortly after sunset and is setting at 1:45 a.m. at midweek.

Venus is now the only planet in the pre-dawn skies, although it will be joined by Jupiter and Saturn by the end of the month. Venus is rising at 6:10 a.m. at midweek, about an hour and 20 minutes before the Sun.

If all goes as planned 2021 will be a busy year for space exploration. Three spacecraft will arrive at Mars after launching during the optimal window last year. The NASA Perseverance Rover, the Hope orbiter from the United Arab Emirates, and the Tianwen-1 combined orbiter, lander, and rover from China are all expected to arrive at the Red Planet in February and April 2021.

Several missions to the Moon are planned for 2021, including two commercial lunar landers and a test of the NASA rocket and spacecraft that are expected to return astronauts to the Moon this decade. Russia is planning to launch the Luna 25 lander and India will launch the Chandrayaan-3 mission with a lunar lander and rover.

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft, named for the Australopithecus fossil skeleton, is due to launch in the fall and will visit 7 asteroids over a 12-year mission. And many astronomers are hoping that there will be no more delays and the James Webb Space Telescope will finally launch later this year.

All public viewing events on UT campus telescopes are on hold for the Spring 2021 semester. We will update the website outreach.as.utexas.edu with a new schedule when we are able to resume viewing.

While you’re waiting for in-person telescope viewing to resume, you can tune in to McDonald Observatory live streams from west Texas. You can view past events on the McDonald Observatory YouTube channel and you can follow the observatory on TwitterFacebook and at McDonaldObservatory.org to be notified of future events.

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