Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers Report for Monday January 18th through Sunday January 24th.
The Moon is at first quarter on Wednesday the 20th so we’ll have a waxing crescent moon for the first part of the week and a waxing gibbous moon for the latter part of the week.
Saturn is in conjunction with the Sun late on Saturday and then will slowly emerge into our morning skies over the next few weeks.
Jupiter is very low in the west and is setting at 6:20 p.m. as it heads towards conjunction with the Sun next week
Mercury is at greatest elongation on Saturday and will set about an hour and a half after the Sun so you should be able to see it shortly after sunset if you have a good view of the western horizon.
Mars is still high in the south shortly after sunset and is setting at 1:25 a.m. at midweek. Uranus is still nearby and is less than 2 degrees below Mars on Thursday night. You’ll need at least binoculars or a small telescope to see the 7th planet. Look for Mars and Uranus to the left of the first quarter Moon on Wednesday night.
In the morning skies, Venus is rising at 6:30 a.m. – just under an hour before sunrise.
In space anniversaries this week, Sunday January 24th marks the 35th anniversary of the Voyager 2’s flyby of the planet Uranus. The spacecraft came within 50,000 miles of the planet and discovered 11 moons which were later named in keeping with the theme of naming Uranus’ moons after characters that feature in Shakespeare’s plays. Voyager 2 is still the only spacecraft to encounter the planet Uranus.
And 15 years ago, on January 19th, New Horizons launched on its mission to become the first spacecraft to fly past Pluto, which it did on July 14, 2015. The mission has continued further into the Kuiper Belt and in 2019 it explored the Belt object later named Arrokoth after the Powhatan word for ‘sky’. The mission has power to continue for about another decade.
All public viewing events on UT campus telescopes are on hold for the Spring 2021 semester. We will update the website outreach.as.utexas.edu with a new schedule when we are able to resume viewing.
While you’re waiting for in-person telescope viewing to resume, you can tune in to McDonald Observatory live streams from west Texas. You can view past events on the McDonald Observatory YouTube channel and you can follow the observatory on Twitter, Facebook and at McDonaldObservatory.org to be notified of future events.
Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers Report and Happy New Year!