The bright objects near the moon again tonight are the red planet Mars – now nearly at its best for all of 2014 – and the blue-white star Spica in the constellation Virgo. Can’t see the moon? You need to wait until mid to late evening for the moon to rise over your horizon. In the northern tropics and Southern Hemisphere, the threesome – the moon, Mars and Spica – rises by early-to-mid evening. At mid-northern latitudes, they rise later, possibly (or not) climbing your horizon before your bedtime.
After they come up tonight, the waning gibbous moon, Mars and Spica will be out for the rest of the night. The trio will be highest up for the night around 3 to 4 a.m. on February 20, and in the western half of sky by dawn. You can distinguish Mars from Spica because it’s the brighter luminary and this world probably shines with a steadier light than the twinkling stars.
Mars will stay in the vicinity of Spica for months to come. We’ve said it before but we’ll say it again. In 2014, you can use the Big Dipper to arc to Arcturus, spike Spica – and make your way to Mars. See the chart below, designed for mid-northern latitudes.
However, you can also see the Big Dipper from the tropical and sub-tropical latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, though it won’t be until the wee hours after midnight at subtropical latitudes. From the Southern Hemisphere, it may be easier to use the constellation Corvus as your guide to Spica – and Mars.
Bottom line: On the night of February 19, 2014, let the moon be your guide to the red planet Mars and blue-white star Spica in the constellation Virgo. They’ll rise about one-half hour earlier each following week, or about two hours earlier with each passing month. By the time early April 2014 rolls around, look for Mars and Spica to be shining in the vicinity of one another from dusk until dawn!