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Mars/Spica conjunction late November 2017

Get up before morning dawn, or around one and one-half hours before sunrise, to see the planet Mars pairing up with the star Spica on the sky’s dome in late November and early December 2017. Simply look eastward and you can’t miss the dazzling planet Jupiter near the horizon. Mars and Spica are those two colorful starlike objects shining above Jupiter in the morning sky.

Also, as darkness gives way to dawn in late November and early December 2017, look for the brilliant planet Venus on line with Mars and Jupiter. However, Mars will probably disappear from view by the time Venus rises into your sky.

Mars and Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, should be close enough together to fit within the same binocular field for a good week or so. The actual conjunction date is November 29, when Mars passes some 3O north of Spica. Three degrees on the sky’s dome is approximately the width of your thumb at an arm’s length.

Spica, the brighter of these two starlike points of light, radiates blue-white whereas the red planet Mars glowers in a ruddy hue. If you have difficulty discerning the contrasting colors of these celestial gems with the eye alone, try viewing this close-knit celestial pair through binoculars.

At present, Mars resides in front of the constellation Virgo while Jupiter shines in front of the constellation Libra. Relative to the backdrop stars of the zodiac, both Mars are Jupiter are going eastward day by day. Mars is going eastward through the constellation Virgo, toward Jupiter, and Jupiter is going eastward through constellation Libra, away from Spica and Mars.

However, Mars travels much more quickly through the constellations of the zodiac than Jupiter does. In the morning sky on January 7, 2018, Mars will finally catch up with Jupiter in front of the constellation Libra. It’ll be a stunning conjunction, with Mars passing less than one-quarter degree (0.25o = half the moon’s diameter) south of Jupiter on the sky’s dome.

But now – late November 2017 – is the time to catch the conjunction of Mars and Spica in the morning sky.

Bruce McClure

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