Tuesday morning – January 9, 2018 – the bright star near the moon is Spica in the constellation Virgo the Maiden. The planets Jupiter and Mars are also nearby, fresh from their magnificent conjunction on Sunday. If you’ll watch over the coming mornings, you’ll see the moon edge downward toward the sunrise, sweeping past Mars and Jupiter, closest to them around January 11.
The moon travels eastward through the constellation Virgo for a few days. It’ll then pass into the constellation to the immediate east of Virgo, the constellation Libra the Scales. Both Jupiter and Mars are both in front of Libra now.
Spica, the star nearest the moon on January 9, is the sole first-magnitude star in Virgo.
Virgo is large and rambling, and – if your sky is dark – Spica can help you to find Virgo’s place in the sky. Virgo is associated with Demeter, Greek goddess of the harvest. Demeter’s daughter was Persephone, who was captured by Pluto, god of the underworld. According to the myths, Pluto allowed Persephone to return to her mother for six months of every year. During the time that Persephone and Demeter are reunited, the world is warm and fruitful. But when Persephone returns to the underworld, Demeter withdraws from the world as well . . . and winter falls on the land. Look here for more about Demeter and Persephone.
Bottom line: On the morning of January 9, the bright star near the moon is Spica in the constellation Virgo. The waning crescent moon will be sweeping down past Jupiter and Mars on January 10-12, 2018.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.