The best time in all of 2014 to see the planet Mars is in April 2014. Earth will pass between Mars and the sun in a few more days – April 8, 2014. Want to spot Mars? Let the Big Dipper introduce you to it. You can always use a star-hopping trick to find the star Spica in any year. In April 2014, Mars beams above Spica at nightfall and early evening. The phrase is: follow the arc to Arcturus and drive a spike to Spica – and, in 2014, locate the red planet Mars.
We’ve shrunk the scale of today’s charts in order to take a wide sweep of sky from northeast to southeast. So when you look in the sky for these stars, know you’ll be looking at a broad expanse of sky – generally eastward in the evening. Why eastward in the evening? Because Spica rises over the southeast horizon around nightfall.
Follow the arc to Arcturus, and drive a spike to Spica. Find the Big Dipper in the northeast in the evening sky, and follow the curve in the Big Dipper’s handle to the star Arcturus in the constellation Bootes: follow the arc to Arcturus. Now extend the curve in the handle into the southeastern sky: drive a spike to Spica.
Spica in the constellation Virgo looks like one star, but this single point of light is really a multiple star system – with at least two member stars and possibly more – located an estimated distance of 262 light-years away. Spica’s constellation, Virgo, is so large and rambling and difficult to see that we haven’t marked it. But you can look for a little squarish figure to the upper right of Spica on the chart at right. This square star pattern is the constellation Corvus the Crow.
Use the Big Dipper to arc to Arcturus and spike Spica – and locate the red planet Mars – on these springtime 2014 evenings!