Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday December 10th through Sunday December 16th.
The moon is at first quarter on Saturday the 15th, so we'll have a waxing crescent moon in the early evening skies for most of the week and start into the waxing gibbous phase on Sunday.
Saturn is low in the west-southwest at sunset and is setting at 6:45 p.m. at midweek.
Mars is still high in the south at sunset and is setting at 12:05 a.m. Mars has now dropped to 8.4 arcsecond in size and +0.2 in magnitude, down from 24.3 arcseconds and -2.8 in magnitude at closest approach back at the end of July. Mars will be right above the moon on Friday night.
Over in the morning skies, Venus is rising at 3:50 a.m. and is shining brightly at magnitude -4.6. Mercury follows at 5:40 a.m. and is at its greatest eastern elongation on Saturday the 15th. Jupiter is rising at 6:15 a.m., about an hour before the sun.
The Geminids meteor shower peaks on Friday December 14th and viewing should be good on the night of the 13th into the morning of the 14th. This shower gets its name because it appears to come from a point in the constellation Gemini, which is above the horizon by 8 p.m. The shower is created by debris from the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, making it one of the few meteor showers not associated with a comet. The moon will set by 11:30 p.m. so it won't interfere with the best time to watch the shower, which is after midnight. The Geminids have been known to produce around 120 meteors an hour at the peak.
Comet 46P/Wirtanen will be making its closest approach to Earth on the 16th and is now bright enough to be seen with the naked eye from a dark location. City dwellers will probably still need binoculars or a telescope to see the fuzzy comet. Wirtanen will be in the constellation Taurus for most of the week and will be near the Pleiades open star cluster by the weekend. Finder charts are available at spaceweather.com
Public viewing on UT campus telescopes has finished for the fall semester. Spring semester viewing will begin in late January. Please check back for details on starting dates and times.
Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers Report.