skywatchers report

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

The new moon for the month of March is on Saturday morning so we’ll have a waning crescent moon in the early morning skies and then start the waxing crescent phase at the very end of the week.

Mars is high in the west at sundown and is setting at 12:20 a.m. at midweek.

The rest of the naked-eye planets are still clustered in the pre-dawn sky although Venus will move back to the early evening skies by the end of the month. Saturn is rising at 4:45 a.m., followed by Jupiter at 5:15 a.m. Mercury is moving back towards the sun and is rising at 5:35 a.m. at midweek. Venus is almost in solar conjunction so it is now lost in the Sun’s glare. Look for the thin crescent moon moving past the pre-dawn planets Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.

This weekend marks the beginning of Daylight Saving Time for most, but not all, of the US when we move our clocks forward one hour early on Sunday morning. The 2 to 3 a.m. hour is the one that is officially skipped where the time change is observed.

In space anniversaries this week, Saturday March 13th marks 240 years since Sir William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus and expanded the boundaries of our solar system. Uranus was observed before the invention of the telescope because its brightness is right at the limit of naked-eye visibility and it was easier to see in the eras before the invention of electric lighting, but it was mistaken for a star.

And continuing the space anniversaries from last week, three additional spacecraft rendezvoused with Halley’s Comet this week 35 years ago. The Soviet Vega 2 satellite came within about 8000 kilometers of the comet on March 9th. Next, the Japanese Sakigake spacecraft made its closest approach to the comet on March 11th. And finally, the European Space Agency’s Giotto spacecraft came within 596 km of the comet’s nucleus on March 14th, the closest observations of the comet during its 1986 visit to the inner solar system. Halley’s comet will make its next closest approach to the Sun on July 28, 2061.

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.