skywatchers report

Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday February 8th through Sunday February 14th.

The new moon for the month of February is on Thursday so we’ll start the week with a waning crescent moon in the pre-dawn sky and then have a waxing crescent moon in the early evening skies for the latter part of the week. This new moon also marks the Chinese New Year and ushers in the Year of the Ox.

Mars is now the only planet visible to the unaided eye in our evening skies and is high in the south-southwest as the sky darkens after sunset. Mars sets just a little before 1 a.m. at midweek.

In the morning skies, Saturn is rising at 6:25 a.m. at midweek, about 50 minutes before the Sun.

Jupiter and Venus are rising at 6:45 a.m. at midweek and are less than half a degree apart from one another but they are rising just 30 minutes before sunrise.

Mercury is in inferior conjunction with the Sun on Monday where it will pass between the Earth and Sun and moves from our early evening skies into our early morning skies. Mercury will be rising about 35 minutes before the Sun by the end of the week.

In space anniversaries this week, Friday February 12th marks 20 years since the NEAR Shoemaker mission landed on the asteroid Eros, effectively ending its mission, although final contact with the spacecraft was a couple of weeks later. The Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission, later renamed NEAR-Shoemaker in honor of planetary scientist Eugene Shoemaker, launched in 1996 and flew by the asteroid Mathilde on its way to its primary target – the asteroid Eros. NEAR Shoemaker entered orbit around Eros on February 14, 2000 where it circled the small body for a year before making a slow, controlled descent to the asteroid’s surface on February 12th, 2001.

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.