skywatchers report

Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday August 2nd through Sunday August 8th.

The new moon for the month of August occurs on Sunday the 8th so we’ll have a waning crescent moon in the early morning skies for all of this week.

Mercury is just beginning to emerge from solar conjunction and is still too close to the sun to observe. Mars is low in the west at sundown and is setting at 9:30 p.m. Venus is shining brightly in the early evening and is visible due west after sundown. Venus is setting at 10:05 p.m. this week.

Saturn is at opposition on Monday the 2nd so that day it will rise at sunset and set at sunrise and will be visible the whole night. Jupiter rises at 9:05 p.m. and will be at opposition in a few weeks. Opposition is the term for when a planet is opposite the Sun from the Earth’s perspective. This is in contrast to conjunction, when the planet goes behind the sun from the Earth’s point of view. Both Mercury and Venus also have an inferior conjunction when they pass between the Earth and the Sun.

In space anniversaries this week, Sunday August 8th marks 20 years since the launch of the Genesis sample-return probe on its mission to collect particles of the solar wind. The spacecraft orbited the Earth-Sun L1 Lagrange point and collected particles for over two years before beginning its return to Earth. The mission plan was for a mid-air retrieval of the capsule, but a flaw in a sensor failed to trigger the parachute deployment and so the capsule crashed into the Utah desert at speed of nearly 200 miles per hour. Even with the damaged capsule, some samples were able to be recovered and studied to give insights into the formation of the solar system.

And Thursday August 5th marks 10 years since the launch of the Juno spacecraft on its mission to Jupiter. Juno entered a polar orbit around Jupiter five years ago after a five-year cruise phase and continues to operate in the Jovian system.

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.