skywatchers report

Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday February 1st through Sunday February 7th.

The moon is at third quarter on Thursday the 4th so we’ll start the week with a waning gibbous moon and finish the week with a waning crescent moon in the pre-dawn skies.

Mercury is sinking back towards the Sun and is setting at 6:45 p.m. at midweek, just 35 minutes after sunset.

Mars is still high in the south at sundown and is setting at 1:00 a.m. so there are still several hours of darkness to observe the Red Planet.

The remaining naked eye planets are clustered near the Sun and are rising shortly before sunrise and are mostly lost in the Sun’s glare. Venus is sinking back towards the Sun and its next conjunction and is rising at 6:40 a.m., about 40 minutes before sunrise. Saturn is rising at 6:50 a.m. at midweek as it moves away from the Sun after its conjunction last month. Jupiter is also emerging from conjunction and is rising at 7:05 a.m. at midweek.

In space anniversaries this week, Wednesday February 3rd marks 55 years since the Soviet Union’s Luna 9 mission landed on the moon and became the first successful soft landing on another celestial body. Last contact with Luna 9 was on February 6, 1966.

And continuing the Apollo 14 50th anniversary from last week – after launch on January 31st, the spacecraft entered lunar orbit on February 4th and astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell landed on the lunar surface the next day. The pair performed two EVAs on the Moon totaling over 9 hours and then returned to lunar orbit on February 6th. Shortly after redocking with Stuart Roosa in the Command and Service Module, the mission left lunar orbit to return to Earth. Apollo 14 splashed down in the South Pacific Ocean on February 9th, 1971 bringing 94 pounds of Moon rocks with them and leaving behind various science instruments and two golf balls on the lunar surface.

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.