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News about Climate Change and our Planet


1st-ever Mars livestream! Watch it here

[youtube]The 1st-ever Mars livestream is scheduled to begin at noon ET (16 UTC, 18 CEST) today and last for one hour.

Wow! A Mars livestream?!

What next? The European Space Agency (ESA) said today (June 2, 2023) that it intends to broadcast a livestream – the first ever – from the red planet Mars. The livestream will last for one hour, as live images stream down directly from Mars roughly every 50 seconds. The livestream is scheduled to begin today at noon ET (16 UTC, 18 CEST). Watch in the viewer above.

And get live updates via @esaoperations on Twitter and with the hashtag #MarsLIVE.

Will it work?

The images will come from the Visual Monitoring Camera on board ESA’s Mars Express orbiter. James Godfrey, Spacecraft Operations Manager at ESA’s mission control center in Darmstadt, Germany, said:

This is an old camera, originally planned for engineering purposes, at a distance of almost three million kilometers [2 million miles] from Earth – this hasn’t been tried before and to be honest, we’re not 100% certain it’ll work …

But I’m pretty optimistic. Normally, we see images from Mars and know that they were taken days before. I’m excited to see Mars as it is now – as close to a Martian ‘now’ as we can possibly get!

Mars Express 20th birthday

ESA wrote at its YouTube page:

On Friday, to celebrate the 20th birthday of ESA’s Mars Express, you’ll have the chance to get as close as it’s currently possible to get to a live view from Mars. Tune in to be among the first to see new pictures roughly every 50 seconds as they’re beamed down directly from the Visual Monitoring Camera on board ESA’s long-lived and still highly productive Martian orbiter.

Bottom line: The European Space Agency hopes to broadcast the 1st-ever Mars livestream today (June 2, 2023). Tune in at EarthSky.

Watch 1,000 Lego astronauts soar to the edge of space


1,000 Lego astronauts

Kids – or folks who, like me, have kids and/ or grandkids – can relate to this awesome video, posted by VideofromSpace on May 25, 2023. They wrote:

A high-altitude balloon carried a mini space-shuttle with 1,000 Legonauts to the edge of space. Three flights were conducted from an airport in Slovakia.

The balloon burst at an altitude of 21 miles (34 km) and then the landing platform returned to Earth under a parachute.

Love it!

Footage courtesy: LEGO/Kreativ Gang/Dominik Matusinsky | edited by’s Steve Spaleta.

Music: Lost in Space by Cobby Costa / Courtesy of

Kids and toys agree

1,000 Lego astronauts: Cute kiddo with 2 Lego astronauts.
EarthSky kids – including Dominic, with brown Benny and mini-Benny – give the 1,000 Legos astronauts their official stamp of approval 😀 Image used with permission. Thanks, Dominic!

Bottom line: A high-altitude balloon carried a mini space-shuttle with 1,000 Legonauts to the edge of space.

Manhattanhenge in 2023: When and where to see it

Manhattanhenge: sun at horizon between tall buildings with dense crowd of tourists holding cameras up.
Manhattanhenge on July 12, 2016, at 42nd Street. Tourists blocked an entire section of 42nd Street, including its intersection with 6th Avenue, to take pictures of the sunset. Image via Fred Hsu/ Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Manhattanhenge, and how to see it

Twice a year – around May 29 and 30, and again around July 11 and 12 – people in New York City look for Manhattanhenge. It’s a phenomenon where the sunset aligns perfectly on east-west oriented streets and avenues of Manhattan. So cool! According to the American Museum of Natural History:

Four nights a year, the streets of Manhattan’s grid become the site for a stunning sunset phenomenon known as Manhattanhenge. During Manhattanhenge, the sun sets in perfect alignment with Manhattan’s East-West numbered streets, creating cinema-worthy photo opportunities.

2023’s Manhattanhenge dates start at the end of May. A half sun will be visible on the grid on Monday, May 29, at 8:13 p.m. EDT, and the full sun will be visible on Tuesday, May 30, at 8:12 p.m. EDT. The second set of dates fall on July 12 (full sun at 8:20 p.m. EDT) and July 13 (half sun at 8:21 p.m. EDT). Between May 29 and July 13, viewers can see the Manhattanhenge Effect, where the sun appears between the grid of the city as it is low in the sky and setting but it doesn’t quite kiss the grid as it sets.

Some of the best places to spot it are along 14th, 23rd, 34th (includes the Empire State Building), 42nd, 57th, and 79th Streets.

Another good place is from the Tudor City Bridge in Manhattan (though it can be crowded) or Hunter’s Point South Park in Long Island City, Queens.

Regardless of where you watch the sunset, make sure you’re as far east as possible while keeping New Jersey in the background across the Hudson River to accentuate the effect.

More good locations and tips from the NYC Parks Department.

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Manhattanhenge

The name Manhattanhenge was coined by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. It’s a nod to the prehistoric monument Stonehenge in England, which was designed to frame the summer solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset. Manhattanhenge is accidental. It happens because Manhattan was built with a grid system of streets, running north-south and east-west. Tyson explains in the video, above.

Aligned sunsets

Each Manhattanhenge is actually two days. On the first day the sun’s full disk aligns with the street grid, and the next day half the sun’s disk aligns with the street grid.

The two sets of aligned sunsets are centered on the summer solstice, leading to the effect’s other, incorrect name, the Manhattan Solstice. The first set of Manhattanhenge dates are on May 29 and 30.

As the sun appears to move south again after the solstice on June 21, the effect repeats in reverse. The full solar disk appears at the horizon on July 12. Then, the half disk alignment occurs the following day on July 13. Depending on the year, these dates can shift by a day.

Six months later, Reverse Manhattanhenge happens around the mornings of January 11-12, when the rising sun creates the same effect on the other side of the island at shortly after 7 a.m. EST.

Solstice and equinox alignments around the world

The phenomenon of Manhattanhenge is fun. And it’s one of many similar alignments that occur around the world on various dates. Think Stonehenge at the equinoxes and solstices.

The point of sunset along the horizon varies throughout the year. At this time of year – between the March equinox and June solstice – the sunset point is shifting northward each day on the horizon as seen from around the globe. It’s the northward-shifting path of the sun that gives us summer in the Northern Hemisphere and winter in the Southern Hemisphere. And it’s the shifting path of the sun that gives people various alignments of the sunset with familiar landmarks.

City skyline with three dated sun positions near the horizon.
Abhijit Juvekar in Dombivli, India, created this composite image of sunsets over a period of months to show that the sun sets progressively farther north in the months leading up to the June solstice. Abhijit posted this image on EarthSky Facebook. Used with permission.

Watching Manhattanhenge

You can observe Manhattanhenge from lots of different places on the east-west streets of the Manhattan street grid. The best places to watch Manhattanhenge are wide streets with an unobstructed view toward New Jersey across the Hudson River.

Popular spots are 34th Street near the Empire State Building and 42nd Street near the Chrysler Building. Wide cross streets – such as 14th, 34th, 42nd and 57th Streets – that ensure the best views of the west-northwest horizon (toward New Jersey) are generally good spots.

Keep in mind that Manhattanhenge draws large crowds, especially around the city’s landmarks.

Why does Manhattanhenge happen?

The June solstice on June 21 will bring the sun’s northernmost point in our sky and northernmost sunset. Afterward, the sun’s path in our sky, and the sunset point, will both start shifting southward again. As for the sun’s alignment with the city of New York, and the streets of Manhattan Island … well, thank the original planners of this city. Scientific American explained:

The phenomenon is based on a design for Manhattan outlined in The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 for a rectilinear grid or gridiron of straight streets and avenues that intersect one another at right angles. This design runs from north of Houston Street in Lower Manhattan to just south of 155th Street in Upper Manhattan. Most cross streets in between were arranged in a regular right-angled grid that was tilted 29 degrees east of true north to roughly replicate the angle of the island of Manhattan.

And because of this 29-degree tilt in the grid, the magic moment of the setting sun aligning with Manhattan’s cross streets does not coincide with the June solstice but rather with specific dates in late May and early July.

EarthSky Community Photos of Manhattanhenge

Sun at horizon under golden sky between iconic tall buildings, with body of water in foreground.
Manhattanhenge in 2017. Gowrishankar Lakshminarayanan was in Gantry Plaza State Park, Queens, New York, looking straight through 42nd Street with the Chrysler building to the right. He said he created this 3-image composite to preserve the disk of the sun and also show shadow details of the surroundings. Used with permission.

Did you get a photo of Manhattanhenge? We’d love to see it! Submit it to us at EarthSky Community Photos.

Bottom line: Each year around May 29 and 30, and again around July 12 and 13, New Yorkers watch for Manhattanhenge.

Read more about Manhattanhenge from

Read more about Manhattanhenge from American Museum of Natural History

A New Butterflies Has Been Named After The ‘Lord of the Rings’ Villain

Saurona triangula – credit B. HuertasTrustees Natural History Museum

A genus of orange and brown butterflies that had been excruciatingly hard to define and separate has been called Saurona after the Dark Lord antagonist from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Any old scientist can name a species—there are tens of millions out there that have needed a name. But naming a genus is a rare honor—one in this case that fell into the lap of a fellow Tolkienite.

The Eye of Sauron depicted in the film adaptation of one of the three most-sold book series in history is like a cat’s eye, with white-orange flames around both the iris and the flaming exterior.

In the case of the butterfly which gave Dr. Blanca Huerta and Keith R. Willmott the idea, white streaks around the interior of the wings trace the path of Sauron’s fiery iris, while a set of orange tips on the hindwings serve as the flaming exterior.

“Naming a genus is not something that happens very often, and it’s even more rare to be able to name two at once,” Dr. Huertas, who works as senior curator of Lepidoptera at the Natural History Museum in London, said in a press release entitled “Fly you Fools.”

The second genus they are able to name was Argentaria which means “silver” and refers to the silvery profile of the butterfly’s wing scales.

While there are currently only two members of this precious new genus—Saurona triangula and Saurona aurigera—many more as-yet-undescribed species are thought to exist.

RELATED: Dozens of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Paintings and Maps Are Now Online to Inspire Adventure

The paper published on Saurona is actually the culmination of a decade’s worth of work attempting to grapple with the identification of a subtribe of butterflies called Euptychiina. These particular butterflies are “widely regarded as one of the most taxonomically challenging groups among all butterflies,” their study details.

“I work in the museum with the largest collection of butterflies in the world, and I have 70,000 little brown things just looking all the same,” Huertas told CNN. “They really challenge (scientists) because they’re very similar to each other.”

Utilizing the Natural History Museum’s collection, the team was able to parse 449 species split between 9 genera out of the Euptychiina.

MORE BUTTERFLY RESEARCH: Scientists Discover Butterflies Originated in America 100 Million Years Ago When Upstart Moths Wanted to Bask in the Sun

“What this paper shows is that there are just hundreds and hundreds of species that we don’t know yet, that haven’t been named,” Robert Robbins, research entomologist and curator of Lepidoptera at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, who wasn’t involved in the study, told CNN.

“This paper takes a very difficult and large group of butterflies, and they just amassed an immense amount of DNA information over the years and just brought it all together… It’s a very fine scientific paper.”

SHARE This LOTR-Inspired Scientist And Their Work With Your Friends…

The Northern Crown is a beautiful star pattern in May

Northern Crown: Six bright stars in bowl shape against a starry sky, Alphecca noticeably brighter.
Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, with its brightest star Alphecca. In fact, this time is year is perfect to see this semicircle of stars in the evening sky. Image via Fred Espenak/ AstroPixels. Used with permission.

The Northern Crown graces the summer skies

Tonight, look for a constellation that’s easy to see on the sky’s dome, if your sky is dark enough. Corona Borealis – aka the Northern Crown – is exciting to find. In fact, it’s easy to pick out as an almost-perfect semicircle of stars. And you’ll find this beautiful star pattern in the evening sky from now until October.

Plus, the constellation Corona Borealis is easy to find since it’s located more or less along a line between two bright stars. The first is Arcturus in the constellation Boötes the Herdsman and the second is Vega in the constellation Lyra the Harp.

Star chart showing stars Vega and Arcturus in corners and small semicircle of stars between them, all labeled.
After nightfall and in the early evening, you’ll see Arcturus fairly high in the east, noticeable for its brightness and yellow-orange color. Next, look for Vega rather low in the northeast. It’s a bright blue-white star. Then look for the Northern Crown between these 2 bright stars. However, it’s closer to Arcturus.

But you’ll need a fairly dark sky to see Corona Borealis between Vega and Arcturus. Then, once you find the semicircle of stars, it’s very noticeable.

The brightest star of the Northern Crown

The brightest star in Corona Borealis is Alphecca, also known as Gemma, sometimes called the Pearl of the Crown. As a matter of fact, the name Alphecca originated with a description of Corona Borealis as the “broken one.” This was in reference to the fact that these stars appear in a semicircle, rather than a full circle. Alphecca is a blue-white star, with an intrinsic luminosity some 60 times that of our sun. And it’s located about 75 light-years from Earth.

Grid with dots and lines showing star patterns.
The C-shaped – or semicircle – constellation Corona Borealis shines between the constellations Boötes and Hercules. Image via IAU. Used with permission.

Some images from our EarthSky Community Photos

Man on rooftop of city looking at outlines of several labeled constellations drawn onto night sky.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Prateek Pandey in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India, captured this photo of Boötes, Virgo and Corona Borealis on March 5, 2021. He wrote: “Spring constellations twinkling in the eastern horizon.” Thank you, Prateek!
Kite-shaped Boötes with star Arcturus at its
View at EarthSky Conmmunity Photos. | Dr Ski in Valencia, Philippines, caught this photo of Arcturus and its constellation Boötes next to the Northern Crown on May 24, 2019. Thanks, Dr Ski!

Bottom line: Look for Corona Borealis – the Northern Crown – between the brilliant stars Arcturus and Vega tonight! In fact, this constellation is very noticeable, if you have a dark sky.

EarthSky astronomy kits are perfect for beginners. Order today from the EarthSky store

Pacific Island leaders urge world to put aside differences in combating impact of climate change

BANGKOK (AP) — Pacific Island leaders criticized rich countries on Monday for not doing enough to control climate change despite being responsible for much of the problem, and for making money off of loans provided to vulnerable nations to mitigate…

Global Warming And Prophet David’s Psalm 8 – OpEd

What does Psalm 8 have to do with the fight against Global Warming? Global Warming And Prophet King David’s Psalm 8 Over the past 15 years, the Earth has accumulated almost as much heat as it did in the previous…

Which moon phase is best for stargazing? That depends.

Colorful and cloudy Milky Way with dim desert, rock formations, and silhouette of standing man looking at sky.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Amr Abdulwahab in the White Desert of Egypt captured this image on March 28, 2023. Amr wrote: “For more than 12 years I have visited the white desert every month for stargazing, astrophotography or even for relaxing and enjoying nature. I documented almost every rock, well, tree or even the huge sand dunes.” Thank you, Amr! Read more about which moon phase is best for stargazing below.

Which moon phase is best for stargazing? That depends on what you want to do.

Stargazing for dim objects is best without moonlight

Most astronomers prefer to observe the sky when the moon is not visible. That’s because they want to look at planets, stars, galaxies, clusters, the Milky Way and nebulae. To see these deep sky objects well, the sky must be dark, free of light pollution and moonlight.

The darkest skies will be around the new moon, when the moon rises and sets with the sun. So the moon is not in the night-time sky. Therefore, both the morning and evening sky are moon-free and great for stargazing. It’s best to go out in the country to a dark site.

Starry sky with a long blue shape bisected by flame-like red nebulae.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Makrem Larnaout in Tunis, Tunisia, captured this image on February 18, 2023. Makrem wrote: “M82, also called the Cigar Galaxy, is located in the constellation Ursa Major, at an estimated distance of 12.7 million light-years. It was discovered in December 1774 by the German astronomer Johann Elert Bode. It is a 42,000 light years in diameter spiral galaxy. Image from March 2022 until February 2023 to accumulate 56 hours in exposures of 300s and 60s.” Thank you, Makrem!

Here are a great website to determine the moonrise and moonset times from your location: Sunrise Sunset Calendars.

Circumventing the moon phase for dim objects

As the moon moves from a new phase to a crescent in the evening sky, dark sky observing can continue. Astronomers either wait until after the moon sets or observe in a part of the sky far from the moon. During this lunar phase, the moonlight is not very bright. That changes as the moon grows in illumination. But not in the way you might think.

When the moon is first quarter or last quarter – and half lit in the sky – its brightness is only about 1/6th of a full moon. Then three nights before a full moon it is half as bright as a full moon. Only during the full moon phase does the moon reach its brightest. This sharp peak in brightness on the nights near full moon is due to what is known as the “opposition surge“, caused by both shadow-hiding and backscattering of sunlight off of the moon.

You can also adjust your observing time to avoid a moonlit sky. The first quarter moon sets at around midnight so you have a dark sky in the early morning hours. Around a third quarter moon you can observe in the evening hours since the moon rises at about midnight.

Stargazing during a full moon

Sometimes, events like the appearance of a comet, a meteor shower or aurora occur during a bright moon. There is simply nothing the astronomer can do about that. As for comets, eventually, the moon moves out of the sky, or the comet moves to the morning or evening sky. For meteor showers, which occur on nearly the same day each year, you can observe before moonrise or after moonset. And if you must deal with the moon, hide it behind something so that its light does not shine directly upon your surroundings.

Swirls of neon-green in a dark sky over winter landscape.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Joanne Richardson outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, captured the aurora on March 27, 2022. Joanne wrote: “I love photographing the aurora. I try to view them yearly, whether it is Iceland, Finland, Canada or Alaska.” Thank you, Joanne! Now a researcher says that you can hear the aurora … even when you can’t see it.

And what to do when an aurora appears in your moonlit sky? Photograph it, and let the moonlight illuminate the earth’s surface, providing a stunning foreground landscape. Make something good out of a bad situation. Or as the old saying goes, “When life gives you bears, make barricades.” Or something like that.

Just ignore that bright moon up there

A growing number of amateur astronomers and most professional astronomers do not look through their telescopes but instead, use them to image the sky. To their surprise, they have learned that a significant amount of moonlight does not interfere with their images. Using special filters to remove moonlight and taking multiple images to stack – to increase contrast – they can image up to nearly full moon and still get good images.

And if the moon is out while you are stargazing, look at everything else first and then enjoy the view of the moon through binoculars or telescopes. That’s because the moon is so bright, you won’t see anything dim afterwards.

Stargazing to enjoy the moon

schematic illsutration of moon phases along a full moon cycle, placed in a circle with annotations.
This schematic explains the different moon phases and how they are illuminated. Image via Used with permission.

The moon is above the horizon half of the day. It’s even visible in the daytime. And, as it travels around the sky each month, it puts on a show that changes each night. It is interesting and fun to follow the phases of the moon. The moon rises roughly 50 minutes later each day so maybe follow the moon through an entire lunar cycle. Learn more about understanding the phases of the moon.

So, which moon phase is best for stargazing?

And the answer is … it depends on what you want to see. Some people enjoy watching the moon itself, as it waxes and wanes in our sky. Others avoid it because it overwhelms the dim objects they really want to see.

Bottom line: The best phase of the moon for stargazing depends on what you want to do. Some enjoy watching the moon itself. On the other hand, people using telescopes avoid the moon because its glare interferes with deep-sky objects.

A planisphere is virtually indispensable for beginning stargazers. Order your EarthSky planisphere today.

Vega is a bright bluish star on May evenings

Vega: Densely starry sky with detailed Milky Way and 3 extra-bright stars well separated.
The 3 brightest stars in this image make up the asterism of the Summer Triangle, a giant triangle in the sky composed of the bright stars Vega (top left), Altair (lower middle) and Deneb (far left). Also in this image, under a dark sky and on a moonless night, is the Great Rift that passes right through the Summer Triangle. Image via NASA/ A. Fujii/ ESA.

Vega shines brightly on May evenings

Look for Vega tonight. It’s the 5th brightest star in our sky. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, you’ll find beautiful, bluish Vega easily, simply by looking northeastward at mid-evening in May. Vega is so bright that you can see it on a moonlit night.

From far south in the Southern Hemisphere, you can’t see Vega until late at night in May. That’s because Vega is located so far north on the sky’s dome. Vega will reach its high point for the night around three to four hours after midnight, at which time people in the Southern Hemisphere can see Vega in their northern sky. As seen from mid-northern latitudes, Vega shines high overhead at this early morning hour.

Because it’s the brightest star in the constellation Lyra the Harp, Vega is sometimes called the Harp Star. Like all stars, Vega rises some four minutes earlier each day as Earth moves around the sun. So Vega will adorne our evening sky throughout the summer and fall.

It’s visible most nights from mid-northern latitudes

Although Vega is considered a late spring or summer star, it’s actually so far north on the sky’s dome that – from mid-latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere – you can find it at some time during the night, nearly every night of the year.

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Constellation Lyra with bright blue-white star Vega, and other interesting objects in Lyra marked.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Here’s Vega (and Lyra) as seen around 3 a.m. from Valencia, Philippines, on May 10, 2019, from our friend Dr Ski. See Vega’s beautiful blue color? Notice the star near Vega, marked with the Greek letter Epsilon. This star is Epsilon Lyrae, a famous double-double star.

Bottom line: If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, Vega is easy to identify in its constellation Lyra at this time of year. Just look northeast in the evening hours for a bright, bluish star above the northeastern horizon.

A planisphere is virtually indispensable for beginning stargazers. Order your EarthSky planisphere today.

Spica, the bright beacon of Virgo, is 2 stars

Brilliant blue-white star Spica with four rays against star field.
Even though our eyes see the star Spica as 1 star, it’s really at least 2. And we see it as distinctly blue-white. Photo by Fred Espenak at AstroPixels. Used with permission.

Spica is a close double star

The star Spica – aka Alpha Virginis – is the brightest star in the constellation Virgo the Maiden. From a distance of about 250 light-years away, Spica appears to us on Earth as a lone bluish-white star in a quiet region of the sky. But Spica consists of two stars and maybe more. In fact, the pair are both larger and hotter than our sun, and they’re separated by only 11 million miles (less than 18 million km). Plus, they orbit their common center of gravity in only four days.

Earth is 93.3 million miles (150 million km, or 1 astronomical unit aka AU) from our sun. Spica’s two stars are only .12 AU from each other, a small fraction of the Earth-sun distance.

And the two stars in the Spica system are individually indistinguishable from a single point of light, even with a telescope. Only the analysis of its light with a spectroscope – an instrument that splits light into its component colors – revealed the dual nature of this star.

Hot, hot, hot

Spica’s two stars are so close, and they orbit so quickly around each other, that their mutual gravity distorts each star into an egg shape. It’s thought that the pointed ends of these egg-shaped stars face each other as they whirl around.

The pair of stars are both dwarfs, brightening near the end of their lifetimes.

Spica is one of the hottest 1st-magnitude stars. The hottest of the pair is 22,400 Kelvin (about 40,000 F or 22,000 C). That’s blistering in contrast to the sun’s 5,800 Kelvin (about 10,000 F or 5,500 C). This star might someday explode as a supernova.

The light from Spica’s two stars, taken together, is on average more than 12,100 times brighter than our sun’s light. Their estimated diameters are 7.8 and four times our sun’s diameter.

Also, Spica is one of several bright stars that the moon can occult (eclipse). Furthermore, based on observations of how the star’s light is extinguished when the moon passes in front, some astronomers think that it may not just be a spectroscopic binary star. Instead, they feel that there may be as many as three other stars in the system. In that case, Spica would not be a single or even a double star, but a quintuple star!

How to find Spica

The best evening views of Spica come from northern spring to late northern summer, when this star arcs across the southern sky in the evening. So in the month of May, as seen from the Northern Hemisphere, you’ll find Spica in the southeast in early evening. Then, from the Southern Hemisphere, Spica is closer to due east. From all of Earth in May, as night passes, Spica appears to move westward. Spica rises earlier each evening so that – by the end of August – Spica can be viewed only briefly in the west to west-southwest sky as darkness falls.

At least there’s a fool-proof way to find Spica, using the Big Dipper as a guide. Scouts and stargazers remember this trick with the saying: Follow the arc to Arcturus, and speed on (or drive a spike) to Spica.

Look for the Big Dipper

First, look for the Big Dipper in the northern sky. It’s highest in the evening sky in the northern spring and summer. Notice that the Big Dipper has a bowl and a long, curved handle. Follow the arc of the Dipper’s handle outward, away from the Dipper’s bowl. The first bright star you come to is orange Arcturus. Then drive a spike (or speed on) along this curving path. And the next bright star you come to is Spica.

Spica shines at magnitude 1.04, making it the brightest light in Virgo. In fact, it’s the 15th-brightest star visible from anywhere on Earth. It’s virtually the same brightness as Antares in the constellation Scorpius, so sometimes Antares is listed as the 15th and Spica as the 16th brightest.

Sky chart of Big Dipper with lines to Arcturus and Spica.
In northern spring, look northeast to southeast in the evening. You’ll find the Big Dipper in the northeast evening sky. Then, follow the arc to Arcturus, and drive a spike (speed on) to Spica.
Star chart showing Big Dipper with line to Arcturus continuing to Spica.
In northern summer, look northwest to southwest. You’ll find the Big Dipper in the northwest evening sky. But you can still follow the arc to Arcturus, and drive a spike (speed on) to Spica.

History and mythology of Spica

The name Spica is from the Latin word for “ear” (of grain). The general connotation is that Spica refers to an “ear of wheat.” Indeed, the star and the constellation Virgo itself were sometimes associated with the Greek goddess of the harvest, Demeter.

There are many names and stories for Spica’s constellation – Virgo – in mythology, and by association with Spica as well. Fewer stories refer to Spica independently. Many classical references refer to Virgo’s stars as a goddess or with some association with wheat or the harvest, since the sun passes through Virgo in the fall. In Greece and Rome she typically was Astraea, the very personification of Justice; or Persephone, daughter of Demeter. In Egypt, Virgo was identified with Isis, and Spica was considered her lute bearer. In ancient China, Spica was a special star of spring known as the Horn.

One Arabic name was Azimech, derived from words meaning Defenseless One or Solitary One. This title may be in reference to Spica’s solitary status with no other bright stars nearby. But Spica is not the most solitary star. That honor goes to Fomalhaut, sometimes called the Autumn Star.

Spica’s position is RA: 13h 25m 12s, dec: -11° 09′ 41″

Antique colored etching of winged young woman in long dress holding a wheat ear, with labeled scattered stars.
Here’s a classical illustration of the constellation Virgo the Maiden, via Urania’s Mirror/ Wikipedia.

Bottom line: Spica is the brightest star in Virgo. Spica is at least two stars orbiting extremely close together, distorting each other into egg shapes.

Virgo? Here’s your constellation

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