As seen from around the world tonight – February 18, 2014 – you can use the moon to locate the planet Mars and bright star Spica. Clouded out tonight? Tomorrow night – February 19 – works too. The moon, Mars and Spica will climb over your horizon by mid-to-late evening. They’ll then stay out for the rest of the night. No matter where you are on Earth, they are highest up in the sky around 3 to 4 a.m. local time and may be found in the western half of sky at morning dawn. Mars is now nearly at its best for this two-year period! The peak time will be in April, but if you start watching Mars tonight, you’ll really enjoy its appearance in our sky in 2014.
How to tell Mars from Spica tonight and in the months to come? There are several ways to tell which starlike object is Mars and which is Spica. Mars is the brighter of the two objects. It probably exhibits a steadier light. Plus Mars is reddish in color, while Spica is blue-white. It may be hard to discern color in the glare of tonight’s bright waning gibbous moon. However, binoculars always help to accentuate color on a moonlit night or in a light-polluted sky.
This trio of bright objects – the waning gibbous moon, Mars and Spica in the constellation Virgo – rise rather late in the evening at mid-northern latitudes and earlier in the evening at more southerly latitudes. Check the links on our almanac page to get some references to recommended almanacs. They can help you find out when the moon, Mars and Spica rise in your sky.
From mid-northern latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere – for example, in the U.S. and Europe – you might be able to catch the three luminaries just before bedtime. Look in the eastern part of sky and close to the horizon. If you’re not one for staying up late, then catch the moon, Mars and Spica higher up in the sky during the predawn and dawn hours on February 19 and 20.
The moon will move onward after several more days, leaving Mars and Spica behind. Mars, on the other hand, will stay in front of the constellation Virgo and in the vicinity of Spica, Virgo’s brightest star, for months to come.
Bottom line: On the nights of February 18 and 19, 2014, look for the planet Mars and star Spica. They are the brightest objects near the moon.