skywatchers report

Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday August 30th through Sunday September 5th.

The moon is at third quarter early in the morning hours of Monday the 30th and then we’ll have a waning crescent moon all week.

Mars is very low in the west after sunset and is setting at 8:25 p.m. at midweek. Mercury is a little bit higher and to the left of Mars and is setting at 8:55 p.m.

Venus is shining brightly in the west-southwest at magnitude -4.0 and is setting at 9:40 p.m. at midweek. Venus will move towards the bright star Spica in the constellation Virgo over the course of the week and the pair will be about one and a half degrees apart by the end of the week.

Saturn is up in the southeast at sundown and is setting at 4:45 a.m. this week. Jupiter is rising about an hour before sunset and is still visible for most of the night.

In space anniversaries this week, Friday September 3rd marks 45 years since the Viking 2 spacecraft landed on Mars. Like its twin Viking 1, the Viking 2 mission consisted of an orbiter and a lander. The combined spacecraft entered orbit in early August 1976 and then the lander detached from the orbiter and touched down at Utopia Planitia on September 3rd. The Viking 2 orbiter operated for a little less than two years when it was shut down due to a propellant leak. The Viking 2 lander operated until April 1980 when its batteries failed after over 3 and a half years of operating on the surface. Star Trek fans might be familiar with Viking 2’s landing site of Utopia Planitia as the site of the Federation shipyard where the USS Enterprise-D and the USS Voyager were built.

All public viewing events on UT campus telescopes are currently on hold through September. We hope to resume our in-person public programs later in the fall, so please check back for more information as we continue to monitor the situation.

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.