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Moon and Spica

March 2, 2010

Spring is the time for planting -- from great fields of grain to flower beds in the front yard. But as spring approaches, a constellation that's associated with the harvest climbs to prominence. In fact, its brightest star huddles close to the Moon late tonight.

Spica is the brightest star of Virgo. It's a little to the lower left of the Moon as they rise in late evening, and even closer to the Moon at first light tomorrow.

In mythology, Virgo was often associated with the harvest. It represented a harvest goddess, or the daughter of a goddess. Spica was a stalk of wheat held in her hand.

Virgo was associated with the harvest because the Sun passed across the constellation during autumn, when farmers were reaping the crops they'd planted months earlier. At this time of year, though, the Sun is half-way around the sky, so it's nowhere near Virgo.

The Moon roughly follows the Sun's path across the sky, so it circles through Virgo's borders every month. It typically passes within a few degrees of Spica, and it can even pass directly in front of the star, blocking it from view. That won't happen this month -- the Moon will miss the bright star by a couple of degrees.

They will create a beautiful pairing, though, climbing into view by around 11 o'clock and keeping company as they sail across the southern sky during the early morning. They'll be in the southwest at first light, with Spica just to the upper left of the Moon.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2010

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