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Menopausal Mother Nature

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See the moon near Spica on February 11

See the moon near Spica on February 11

Moon near Spica: Green line with moon straddling the line and labeled star very close to its lower right.
You can see the moon near Spica, the brightest star of Virgo the Maiden, on the morning of February 11, 2023. Chart via John Jardine Goss/ EarthSky.

See the moon near Spica

After midnight and through the morning of February 11, 2023, find the waning gibbous moon near the bright star Spica in Virgo the Maiden. The moon will be more than 70% lit, decreasing from its peak during full moon on February 5. So, while the moon is still quite bright, it’s not bright enough to wash out nearby Spica, which shines at magnitude 1.04.

For the most accurate view of the sky from your location, use Stellarium online.

Now on sale! The 2023 EarthSky lunar calendar. A unique and beautiful poster-sized calendar showing phases of the moon every night of the year. Treat yourself!

Spica, brightest star of Virgo

The star Spica also has the name of Alpha Virginis. From its distance of 262 light-years away, Spica appears to us on Earth as a lone bluish-white star in a quiet region of sky. But Spica consists of two stars and maybe more. The pair are both larger and hotter than our sun. And they’re separated by only 11 million miles (less than 18 million km). They orbit their common center of gravity in only four days.

Spica’s two stars are so close and orbit so quickly around each other that their mutual gravity distorts them into egg shapes. Astronomers think the pointed ends of these egg-shaped stars face each other as they whirl around.

Spica and the ecliptic

Because Spica is located close to the ecliptic, or path of the sun, moon and planets, it occasionally gets occulted by the moon. An occultation is when one body, such as the moon, passes in front of another object from the viewer’s perspective. The next lunar occultation of Spica is on June 16, 2024. It will be visible to observers located near the Caspian Sea.

But the moon appears to pass close to Spica every month in its orbit around Earth. This is because the moon returns to the same spot in its orbit every 27.3 days. So, if you’re clouded out for this pairing of the moon and Spica, you can try again on March 10. In April, it’s the full moon that meets Spica on April 6. Why isn’t the moon in the same phase every time it meets Spica? That’s because it takes 29.5 days to go from new moon to full phase and back to new again. Read more about the moon’s orbit and phases here.

Bottom line: Spot the moon near Spica, the brightest star of Virgo the Maiden, after midnight and in the morning of February 11, 2023.

For more great observing events in the coming weeks, visit EarthSky’s night sky guide


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