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Moon and Jupiter meet in Virgo

Tonight – April 9, 2017 – the almost-full waxing gibbous moon begins its monthly sweep in front of the constellation Virgo, where, it so happens, the dazzling planet Jupiter also resides. You’ll see Jupiter near the moon for the next few evenings. Jupiter is now just two days past its April 7 opposition, so it’s shining at its brightest and best for this year.

On April 10, the full moon will be especially close to Jupiter on the great dome of sky – a beautiful sight – worth seeing and celebrating!

How many of you have birthdays between September 16 and October 31? We ask because the sun shines in front of Virgo at that time of year. This year, in 2017, the sun enters the constellation Virgo on September 16 at 20 UTC and leaves Virgo on October 31 at 00:00 UTC. Of course, this constellation is lost in the sun’s glare at this time of year, so you won’t be able to see it then. The month of April is always a much better time of year for viewing Virgo than in September and October.

Because the bright moon will be passing in front of Virgo for the next several days, the drenching moonlight will make it difficult to see the starlit figurine of Virgo the Maiden right now. But the moon will drop out of the evening sky in a week or so, and then Virgo’s faint stars will come into better view, assuming you’re away from city lights.

City or country – moon or no moon – Jupiter will be easily visible. Jupiter is the fourth-brightest celestial body to light up the heavens, after the sun, moon and Venus. Venus is in the morning sky now, and it stays in the morning sky for the rest of this year. Jupiter, just past its yearly opposition, will be a very prominent sight in the eastern sky after sundown for the coming month, and it’ll remain prominent through June and into July.

In other words, we’re now in the middle of the best time of year to see Jupiter. It’s now rising in the east when the sun sets in the west, the first “star” to pop out in the evening sky. Jupiter stays in any constellation of the zodiac for roughly a year, and 2017 presents your opportunity to use Jupiter to learn the constellation Virgo. At this time next year, in 2018, Jupiter will be shining in front of the constellation Libra the Scales.

Jupiter is near a bright star now, Virgo’s brightest star and indeed the only 1st-magnitude star in Virgo. This star is called Spica, and Jupiter will remain near it for the most of 2017.

You can’t miss Jupiter, but Spica – without Jupiter – is a bit harder. The chart below shows you one way to find it:

In a year when the planet Jupiter isn’t around to guide you to Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo the Maiden, let the sail-shaped constellation Corvus confirm that you’ve found Spica.

Bottom line: On April 9, 2017, let the moon guide you to Jupiter, and then let Jupiter escort you to Spica, the constellation Virgo’s brightest star.

Bruce McClure

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