skywatchers report

Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday December 13th through Sunday December 19th.

The moon is full on the night of Saturday the 18th so we’ll have a waxing gibbous moon for the work week and begin the waning gibbous phase at the weekend. This full moon is known as the Long Night Moon and the Moon Before Yule.

Mercury continues to move away from the sun very low in the west after sunset, but the innermost planet is still setting just 40 minutes after the sun this week.

Venus is in the west at sunset and is setting at 7:50 p.m. A look at Venus in binoculars or a small telescope will reveal a crescent planet that is only about 15% illuminated.

Saturn is up in the southwest as the sky darkens and is setting at 9:00 p.m. Jupiter is higher and brighter in the southwest and is setting at 10:20 p.m.

In the morning skies, Mars is rising at 5:35 a.m., now almost two hours before sunrise.

The Geminids meteor shower peaks on Monday night into Tuesday morning and, as with several of the best annual showers this year, there will be some interference from moonlight. The constellation Gemini, where the shower gets its name, will be fully above the eastern horizon (to the left of Orion) by about 8:30 p.m. but the best time to try to catch meteors will be after the moon sets at 2:20 a.m. The Geminids are caused by the Earth passing through the debris of 3200 Phaethon, an unusual object classified as a “rock comet”. At its peak and in favorable conditions, the Geminids can produce up to 120 meteors an hour.

Public viewing on UT campus telescopes has finished for 2021. For now, we are planning to resume spring semester viewing as usual in late January 2022, but please check back in early 2022 for more details.

Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers Report.