skywatchers report

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

The new moon for the month of December is on the morning of Thursday the 13th.

Mars is still visible low in the southwest at sundown and is setting at 7:35 p.m. at midweek, where it will continue to linger for a couple months more before finally heading into conjunction with the Sun. A very thin crescent moon will be to the right of Mars on Friday and just above Mars on Saturday.

Jupiter is now rising about an hour before sunset, so it is already up fairly high in the east once the sky darkens in the early evening. The orange star Aldebaran is visible to the lower right of Jupiter and the Pleiades star cluster is above Jupiter. Look for the constellation Orion below Jupiter.

In the morning skies, Saturn is rising at 3:50 a.m. followed by Venus at 5:20 a.m. and Mercury at 5:50 a.m. Look for a very thin crescent moon next to Venus on Tuesday morning.

The Geminid meteor shower is due to peak on Thursday night into Friday morning. With the moon at the new phase, this will be a very favorable time to observe this reliable shower. In recent years the Geminids have been producing an average of around two meteors a minute and last year it averaged closer to three meteors a minute. The Geminids get their name because they appear to come from a point in the constellation Gemini the Twins and will radiate from a spot near the star Castor, one of the pair that, along with Pollux, gave rise to the constellation's name. The source of the debris for this shower is the object Phaethon, which is thought to be more like an asteroid than the usual meteor shower parent body, a comet.

Public viewing nights on UT campus telescopes have finished for 2012. Spring semester viewing will start in late January 2013. Please check back in mid-January for more information on starting dates and times.

Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers Report.