The best time in all of 2014 to see the planet Mars is here. Earth will pass between Mars and the sun in a few more days – April 8, 2014. Want to spot Mars? It’s easy because Mars is the brightest object in the eastern sky each evening now. Want some confirmation? Let the Big Dipper confirm your Mars sighting. In any year, can star-hop from the Big Dipper to find the star Spica. In April 2014, Mars beams close to Spica all night long. 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. However, you can look for a little squarish figure even farther to the south than Spica. This square star pattern is the constellation Corvus the Crow (Raven).
The crescent moon is near planet Jupiter on April 4, 2014. The brightest object in the evening sky now isn’t Mars. It’s Jupiter. On the night of April 4, Jupiter is the brightest object in the vicinity of the waxing moon. Enjoy keeping an eye on the moon over the coming weeks as it waxes toward full. At full moon, on the night of April 14-15, there will be a total lunar eclipse visible from the Americas. It’ll be an awesome photo opportunity, especially since the red planet Mars will be right next to the eclipsed moon on April 14-15.
Bottom line: Use the Big Dipper to arc to the star Arcturus. Then drive a spike to the star Spica – and locate the red planet Mars – on these springtime 2014 evenings!