skywatchers report

Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers' Report for December 21st through January 2nd 2006.

The moon is at third quarter on Friday the 23rd and will be new on the last day of the year, December 31st.

The winter solstice occurred at 12:35 p.m. here in Austin on Wednesday the 21st. This is the point where the sun reaches its farthest point south on the celestial sphere and it cuts the smallest arc across the sky. This means that in the northern hemisphere, the day is the shortest of the year. For our friends in the southern hemisphere, today is the summer solstice and the sun will cut the largest arc across the sky making it the longest day of the year.

The last meteor shower of 2005 peaks on Thursday, December 22nd. This shower is called the Ursids, because it appears to come from a point in the constellation Ursa Minor. The activity of this shower is typically about 10 meteors an hour, but it has been known to produce over 50 an hour.

The year closes out with several bright planets still in the evening skies. Venus is sinking in the western skies and sets a little after 7 p.m. as 2006 starts. A very thin crescent moon will be alongside Venus on New Years Day.

Mars finishes the year high in the southeast as twilight falls. Saturn is rising just before 8 p.m. as the year closes, providing a great target for any telescopes received as gifts over the holidays. Jupiter is rising at 3 a.m. on New Years morning. Mercury is still peeking above the horizon as the sun rises on 2006.

Public viewing is on hiatus until the start of the spring 2006 semester. Please call back in mid-January for starting dates and times.

Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers' Report and have a happy and safe holiday season.