Drive a spike to the star Spica – and the planet Saturn – on these springtime evenings.
Although you’ll always find the star Spica in the same place in the sky on May evenings every year, Saturn’s proximity to Spica is special to this year. At present, Saturn shines in front of the constellation Virgo, just west of the Libra/Virgo border. On this date in 2014, Saturn will in the middle of the constellation Libra.
Yesterday we talked about learning to “follow the arc” to the star Arcturus in the constellation Bootes. You just follow the curve in the Big Dipper’s handle until you see this orange star.
Tonight, let the Big Dipper introduce you to another bright star. This star is Spica in the constellation Virgo the Maiden. You can follow the arc to Arcturus AND drive a spike or, as some say, speed on to Spica.
Today’s chart at top shows a wide sweep of sky, from northeast to southeast around nightfall. First follow the curve made by these stars 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. Or: speed on to Spica. Both stars should be bright enough to withstand tonight’s moonlight glare! The sky chart below shows Saturn’s position relative to Spica for early evening.
Spica in the constellation Virgo looks like one star, but this single point of light is really a multiple star system – with two hot stars orbiting very close together – located an estimated distance of 262 light-years away from Earth. Spica’s constellation, Virgo, is large and rambling and difficult to see. But you can look for a little squarish figure to the right of Spica. This is the constellation Corvus the Crow, which we show on our chart for May 15.
On these springtime evenings, drive a spike to the sparkling blue-white star Spica – and the golden planet Saturn.