You’ll have to be a night owl or an early bird to spot the pairing of the moon and planet Mars in front of the constellation Virgo on the morning of January 23, 2014. Depending on where you live worldwide, the moon and Mars will climb over the eastern horizon at late evening (January 22) or after midnight (January 23). How will you recognize Mars? It’ll be one of two bright objects in the moon’s vicinity. The other is a star, Spica. Mars is the brighter of these two objects.If you learn to spot Mars, and wait a few days until the moon moves away, you’ll notice that Mars shines with a distinct reddish color. Spica shines blue-white.
If you’re not one for staying up late, simply wake up early to see the moon and Mars before sunrise on Thursday, January 23. This pair of worlds will be highest up in the sky just before dawn, or roughly 5 a.m. local time (that’s the time on your clock no matter where you live around the globe).
When you see them, remember that, unlike the stars – which shine by their own light – the moon and Mars shine by reflecting the light of the sun.
The other point of light near the moon is Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo. On moonless nights, it’ll be easy to distinguish red Mars from blue-white Spica by color. Binoculars help to accentuate the color of either Mars or Spica.
Luckily for us in 2014, beginning around now, you can use the Big Dipper to star-hop to Mars. That’ll be the case for many months to come. The sky chart on this page shows you how to extend the Big Dipper’s handle to arc to Arcturus, spike Spica – and make your way to Mars.
Bottom line: Let the moon guide you to the red planet Mars from late night January 22 until before dawn January 23, 2014. Then notice the Big Dipper, and learn to use it to star-hop to Mars for months to come. Coming this April 2014, when Earth passes between Mars and the sun – bringing Mars to its 2014 opposition in our sky – Mars will be out all night long and at its brightest best for the year.