Mars sets up near Spica

Jan 26

Written by:
1/26/2014 10:10 PM  RssIcon

Mars near Spica last week of January 2014

For the next week or so, the Red Planet of Mars will be nearby the bluish white star of Spica. The two will not be much above the horizon at midnight, but an hour later achieve enough elevation to be reasonably observed. The contrast between them should make for an interesting sight, too: Mars has a very distinct, orange hue to it, and Spica is a large, B-spectral class star that glows with a bluish tint. 

With the two objects at nearly the same magnitude, and just a few finger width's apart from each other, they are well suited to comparison. Of course, the actual size and distance is fascinating to consider as well. 

  • Mars is a mere 1 Astronomical Unit from Earth this week - or about 150,000,000 kilometers. 
  • Spica is 260 light years away. A light year is 9.4605284 × 1012 kilometers.

So Spica is 16,442,328 times farther away than Mars. And we're still figuring out how to get humans TO Mars and back sometime in this century. Yeah, Spica is pretty far away - and that's not even one of the farthest, naked eye stars either. How's that for something to think about while viewing these two objects this week?

And while the naked eye view offers something interesting, the small <9 arc seconds diameter of Mars still isn't giving us much to see just before opposition in a few months. However, if the polar vortex cold in the U.S. (or other cold elsewhere) doesn't have you darting outside for just a few seconds of observing, now is a decent time to start training your eye to see more detail on the next-out-from-Earth planet. Look for the polar cap(s) and subtle differences in dark and light shading. Of course, there are some tricks to getting better planetary views; so use as many as you can to tease out more detail.

Also, don't miss the supernova in Messier 82 or Mercury in the evening sky. For more astronomy happenings this week, and some cool objects to check out with binoculars or a small telescope, see Eyes on the week of Jan 27 thru Feb 2 in the blog. And for new telescope users, there's the "Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Telescopes and Amateur Astronomy" so you can leap from beginner to intermediate in about an hour!

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The Nightlight

This blog includes what to see in the night and daytime skies, thoughts on telescopes, binoculars, and other astronomy observing accessories and equipment, plus my own occasional notes on objects I've seen and observed. Oh, and the random theater or other "my take on life" post. In other words, there is always something interesting. Check it out.