Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday December 16, 2013 through Sunday January 5, 2014.
The full moon for the month of December is on Tuesday December 17th. This full moon is known as the Long Night Moon and the Moon Before Yule. The moon will reach third quarter phase on December 25th and will ring in the new year as a new moon on January 1st.
Venus will continue to shine brightly through the end of the year and into 2014. Venus will be setting at 8 p.m. on December 16th, at 7:35 p.m. on December 23rd and at 7:05 p.m. on December 30th as it sinks back towards the sun.
Jupiter will be a good target for new telescopes and binoculars over the holidays as it rises early in the evenings. Jupiter will rise in the east-northeast at 7:05 p.m. on December 16th, 6:35 p.m. on the 23rd and just a little after 6:00 p.m. on December 30th. Look for Jupiter just a few degrees away from the moon on Wednesday the 18th. Jupiter will be at opposition on Sunday the 5th, when it will rise at sunset and set and sunrise.
The rest of the planets visible to the unaided eye will finish the year rising after midnight. Mars rises at 1:05 a.m. on December 19th, 12:55 a.m. on the 23rd and at 12:40 a.m. on the 30th.
You'll have to wait another few hours for the next planet to rise, when Saturn comes up over the east-southeastern horizon at 4:30 a.m. on December 16th, at 4:05 a.m. on the 23rd and at 3:45 a.m. on the 30th.
Mercury is sinking back towards the sun and is rising up just 30 minutes before the sun on December 16th and by the 23rd it will be up only 10 minutes before the sun. Mercury will be in superior conjunction with the sun on the 29th when it will pass behind the sun from the earth's point of view and will move into our early evening skies.
The winter solstice for the northern hemisphere is on December 21st at 11:11 a.m. central standard time making that the shortest day of our year. For our friends in the southern hemisphere, it will be the summer solstice and the longest day of the year.
The first meteor shower of the year, the Quadrantids, peaks in the first few days of the new year and will benefit from the moon-free skies. The meteors will appear to come from a point near the end of the handle of the Big Dipper.
The Earth is at perihelion, our closest point to the sun on Saturday January 4th, when we will be about 91.5 million miles away from our parent star.
Public viewing on UT campus telescopes will start in late January. Please check back for information on starting dates and times.
Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers Report and have a happy and safe holiday season.