Stargazing: Mars closes in on Spica

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If you have followed Mars closely this spring, you will have noticed that the red “evening star” was within 5 degrees of Virgo’s brightest star Spica at the beginning of March and then moved backward 15 degrees away from Spica by May. This occasional backward or westward movement is called retrograde motion, and it occurs every two years or so around opposition when Mars’ position in the sky seems to change direction and move east to west.

The Red Planet resumed its eastward or forward motion last month and can be seen 10 degrees west of Spica this week. By the middle of July, Mars’ eastward motion will move the planet to about 1 degree north of Spica. After passing Spica, Mars’ eastward motion will move it to within 3 degrees of Saturn by late August.

Look for Mars and Spica this week, 35 degrees above the southwestern horizon at 10:30 p.m. The brighter Red Planet will also sit about 35 degrees to the right of Saturn.


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