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Extend Big Dipper’s handle to Spica

Extend the handle of the Big Dipper to find the star Arcturus and the star Spica. Spica is found in the southeast sky at nightfall, and then climbs to its highest point for the night around midnight.

Tonight for April 2, 2016

Tonight … follow the arc to Arcturus, and drive a spike to Spica. First find the Big Dipper in the northeast in the evening sky, and then 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.

By the way, this is the perfect night to identify Spica. The moon will pass quite close to this on April 4, and it’ll be near the star throughout Saturday’s total eclipse of the moon.

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). Check out the star chart below to see where Corvus is in relationship to Spica.

The little square star pattern near Spica is another constellation, Corvus the Crow.

The little square star pattern near Spica is another constellation, Corvus the Crow.

Bottom line: Use the Big Dipper to arc to the star Arcturus. Then drive a spike to the star Spica on these springtime evenings!

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