skywatchers report

Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday May 17th through Sunday May 23rd.

The moon is at first quarter on Wednesday the 19th so we’ll start the week with a waxing crescent moon and then have a waxing gibbous moon for the remainder of the week.

Mercury was at greatest elongation early on Monday the 17th and then will start to move back towards the sun and its next conjunction next month. Mercury is setting about 2 hours after the sun early in the week and about an hour and 40 minutes after the sun by the weekend.

Venus is between Mercury and the sun and is setting at 9:30 p.m. at midweek.

Mars is still visible in the heart of the constellation Gemini the Twins and is setting at 11:50 p.m.

In the morning skies, Saturn is rising at 1:20 a.m., followed by Jupiter at 2:15 a.m. Both planets are slowly moving back to our evening skies and will be at their best in late summer.

In space anniversaries this week, Tuesday May 18 marks the launch of the Soyuz TM-12 mission carrying Helen Sharman, the first British astronaut and the first woman to visit the Mir space station.

Another notable anniversary this week occurs on Wednesday May 19th, which marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Soviet Mars 2 mission which became the first human-made spacecraft to reach the surface of Mars, although unfortunately it was a crash landing and no data was collected from the probe.

In related space news from this past week, China became the third nation to successfully land a mission on Mars when the Tianwen-1 touched down at Utopia Planitia on May 14th. The spacecraft also carries the Zhurong rover, which will be deployed later this week. If the deployment is successful, it will make China the second nation, after the United States, to operate a rover on Mars.

All public viewing events on UT campus telescopes are currently on hold. 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.