Drive a spike to the star Spica – and the planet Saturn – on these May 2013 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.
Today’s chart at the top of this post 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.
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.
Bottom line: Saturn is still nearly at its best for 2013. On these May evenings, drive a spike to the sparkling blue-white star Spica – and find the golden planet Saturn as well.