The best time in all of 2013 to see the planet Saturn is in late April and May. Earth will pass between Saturn and the sun late this month – April 28, 2013. Want to spot Saturn? Let the Big Dipper introduce you to it. You can always use a star-hopping trick to find the star Spica in any year. In April 2013, look for Saturn to follow Spica into the starry sky at early to mid-evening. The phrase is: follow the arc to Arcturus and drive a spike to Spica.
We’ve shrunk the scale of today’s chart 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 and Saturn follows suit an hour or so later.
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.
At mid-northern latitudes, Saturn should clear the southeast horizon at about 9:30 to 10:30 p.m. local daylight saving time. Hold your fist at an arm length, and then look for Saturn about one and one-half fist-widths below Spica. The planet will shine with a golden color, and, if you contrast it to the star, you will find it doesn’t twinkle as stars do.
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. But you can look for a little squarish figure to the upper right of Spica on the chart at right. This square star pattern is the constellation Corvus the Crow.
As Earth travels around the sun, all the stars rise four minutes earlier each day. Thus these stars – and the planet Saturn – will be rising earlier and appearing higher in the sky earlier in the evening in the coming months.
Use the Big Dipper to arc to Arcturus and spike Spica – and drop down to Saturn – on these springtime 2013 evenings!