Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday March 15th through Sunday March 21st.
The moon is at first quarter on Sunday, so we’ll have a waxing crescent moon in the early evening skies for almost the whole week.
Mars is still high in the west after sunset and is setting at 1:10 a.m. at midweek. Mars will be above the moon on Thursday evening and about two degrees below the moon on Friday evening.
In the morning skies, Saturn is rising at 5:20 a.m. with Jupiter following at 5:50 a.m. Mercury is getting lower each morning as it moves back towards the Sun and is rising at 6:35 a.m. at midweek. Venus is now too close to the sun to be observed.
The vernal equinox for the northern hemisphere occurs at 4:37 a.m. Central Daylight Time on Saturday March 20 marking the beginning of spring. For our friends in the southern hemisphere, it will be the autumnal equinox and the beginning of fall. This is the point where the sun crosses the celestial equator and the amount of daylight and night are approximately equal. For the northern hemisphere the amount of daylight will continue to grow until the June solstice.
In space anniversaries this week, Wednesday March 17th marks 10 years since the NASA MESSNGER mission became the first spacecraft to enter orbit around the planet Mercury. MESSENGER orbited the innermost planet for over four years until it used the last of its propellant to crash onto Mercury’s surface. The next mission to study Mercury is the European Space Agency and Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s BepiColombo spacecraft which launched in 2018 and will enter orbit at Mercury in December 2025.
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 Twitter, Facebook and at McDonaldObservatory.org to be notified of future events.
Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers Report.