Star Constellation Facts: Virgo the Virgin

Star Constellation Facts: Virgo the Virgin
Alexander Jamieson’s Celestial Atlas (1822)

Virgo (“virgin”), associated with fertility and agriculture, is the largest of the zodiac constellations, and the second-largest constellation overall in the night sky, after Hydra. Virgo also contains the beautiful blue giant star, Spica, that is the 15th brightest star in the sky, and together with Denebola in Leo, and Arcturus in Bootes forms the asterism of stars called the Spring Triangle.

Mythology: Represents Harvest Goddess

As the only female figure of the zodiac, Virgo is associated with many goddesses from the ancient world. In ancient Greece, for instnce, Virgo was Dike, the Greek goddess of justice, while another legend connects the constellations to Erigone, the virgin daughter of Icarius.Virgo is also linked with the tale of Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter, the goddess of crops. When Persephone was abducted to the underworld by an amorous Hades, Demeter ruined the harvest in retaliation, until Zeus intervened so that Persephone could spend half the year with her mother and the other half in the underworld. Hence, the summer and winter season.

Location: A Southern Constellation

Virgo is a southern constellation that can be seen by observers located between latitudes +80° and -80°. To locate Virgo, remember the mnemonic ‘Arc to Arcturus and Spike to Spica.’ In other words, an imaginary arc drawn from the handle of the Big Dipper will lead first to the orange star Arcturus, and then Virgo’s brightest star Spica. Virgo can then be seen directly south of the constellation Coma Berenices, and immediately north of the constellations Libra, Corvus, and Crater.

Best Seen: Spring and Summer

Virgo Arcturus DipperFor observers in the northern hemisphere, Virgo is seen during spring and summer, with its best viewing month being May. Conversely, Virgo is seen from the southern hemisphere during the southern autumn and winter.

Shape: Depicts a Winged Maiden

Virgo takes up an area of 1294 square degrees, and is pictured as a winged, angel-like being holding an ear of corn. The almost-human like figure is depicted lying on its back, with the brightest star in the constellation, Spica, forming the left “hand”, the star Porrima forming the “chest and shoulders”, and Vindemiatrix forming the right “hand.” Seen from the northern hemisphere, the “head” is to the right of the outstretched arms.

Meteor Showers: Virginids, Mu Virginids

Two meteor showers, the Virginids, and the Mu Virginids have their radiants in Virgo. The Virginids is only one of a complex of about 12 showers that emanate from the vicinity of Virgo, and persist from late in February to early in May. Overall activity from the complex of showers can sometimes exceed 10 meteors per hour, particularly during the first half of April. The Mu Virginids shower is minor stream that hardly ever produces more than 7 to 10 meteors per hour. The peak of this stream is on 24/25 April, with the radiant close to the border with Libra.

Notable Stars: Spica (1st magnitude)

Star Constellation Facts: Virgo the Virgin

– Spica (Alpha Virginis), with an apparent visual magnitude of 1.04, is the most luminous star in Virgo, and the 15th most luminous star in the entire night sky. The giant blue-white star located 260 light years away is 1,500 times bigger than our Sun, and when viewed appears particularly brilliant as there are few other bright stars in its neighborhood. However, Spica is actually a double star system which we see as one bright object.

– Porrima (Gamma Virginis) is located 38 light years away, and has an apparent magnitude of 2.74, making it the constellation’s second brightest star. However, the blue-white star is actually part of a binary system.

– Vindemiatrix (Epsilon Virginis) is a yellow giant star located 102 light-years away, and with an apparent visual magnitude of 2.826, making it Virgo’s third brightest star. It is at least 77 times more luminous than the Sun with its name coming from the Latin “vindemiatrix”, meaning “the grape gatherer”.

Notable Objects: Rich in Galaxies

The constellation is especially rich in galaxies, and contains the Virgo Supercluster, a magnificent collection of galaxies located around 65 million light-years distant. Amongst the roughly 150 large galaxies, and a thousand dwarf galaxies in this cluster is the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Eyes Galaxies (Arp 120). One notable galaxy in Virgo lying outside the supercluster is the Sombrero Galaxy (M104), which is 50,000 light-years across and 28 million light years distant.

Planets: 29 Stars with 35 Planets

Virgo has more stars with known planets than any other constellation, with a total of 35 planets orbitting 29 stars. The most notable of these stars is 61 Virginis, which is almost identical to the Sun in composition and has 3 planets orbiting it, one of which is a super-earth. Virgo also hold the record for the most planets ever discovered in a single year, namely nine in 2009.

Astrology: Aug 23 to Sept 22

Although under the zodiacal calendar, the Sun passes through Virgo roughly between August 23rd and September 22nd, with precession over time the Sun currently passes in front of this constellation from around September 16th to October 30th.

Date of Birth: Aug 23 to Sept 22
Sign Ruler: Mercury
Element: Earth
Birth Stone: Sapphire, amber
Metal: Mercury
Color: Grey
Characteristics: Helpful, elegant, modest, practical, clear-headed
Compatibility: Sagittarius, Taurus, Gemini

Virgo Represents Fertility

Virgo has been associated with many goddesses throughout history. For the Egyptians it represented Isis, while the Romans knew it as Ceres. All traditions in which Virgo features, however, agree that the constellation represents maidens, fertility, and purity. So pure, in fact, that in India, Virgo was known as Kauni, the mother of the god Krishna. In Ancient Babylonia, Virgo was associated with the goddess Ishtar, who descended into the Underworld to rescue her husband Tammuz, the god of all harvests, in order for the earth to again produce crops.