skywatchers report

Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers' Report for Monday December 10th through Sunday 16th.

The moon is at first quarter next Monday, the 17th, so we’ll be watching a slim crescent growing in the west after sunset this week.

On Monday the 10th, the moon, only about 24 hours from new, will be next to Jupiter, which is sinking towards the sun. You will need good eyes and a clear view of the southwestern horizon to see the pair. Mars is rising before 6:30 p.m. this week, alongside the constellation Orion the Hunter. Saturn is rising at about 11:15 p.m. at mid-week and Venus is rising at 4 a.m. Mercury is heading towards conjunction and is very close to the sun.

This week is the peak of one of the more reliable meteor showers of the year, the Geminids. The Geminids are thought to be unique among meteor showers because the particles we see entering the atmosphere come from an asteroid – 3200 Phaethon – as opposed to a comet, which is the source of all the other regular meteor showers. The shower usually produces an average of 2 meteors a minute, or 120 an hour at peak. The best night for activity this year will be Friday the 14th. The point that the meteors will be appearing to come from, known as the radiant, is above the bright starts Castor and Pollux, in the constellation Gemini. Because Gemini rises above the horizon by 7 p.m., you can start looking for meteors earlier in the evening than with most showers, but it is worth looking for them all night, especially after midnight.

The launch of the space shuttle Atlantis has been delayed until January due to problems with a fuel sensor. The shuttle will be delivering the European Space Agency’s Columbus Laboratory to the International Space Station. You can learn more about the mission at the NASA website at www.nasa.gov

Comet Holmes is still visible in our skies, although now most people will need binoculars or a telescope to see it. If you’re in a very dark location, especially when the moon is out of the way, you might be able to see the comet in the upper parts of the constellation Perseus. Spaceweather.com has finder charts and an extensive photo gallery.

Public viewing is finished for the fall semester. Star parties will resume in mid-to-late January. Please call back later for starting dates and times.

Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers' Report.