Drive a spike to the star Spica on these May evenings. You’ll always find the star Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo the Maiden, in the same place in the sky on May evenings every year.
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.
The above chart 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 west (right) of Spica. This is the constellation Corvus the Crow, which we show on our May 15, 2017 Tonight’s sky.
Bottom line: On these May evenings, drive a spike to the sparkling blue-white star Spica.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.