Science & Astronomy

Virgo Constellation: Facts about the Virgin

Learn how to spot the constellation Virgo in the night sky. Original Image
Credit: Starry Night Software

Virgo is a congested constellation with dozens of known exoplanets and at least a dozen Messier objects. It is the largest constellation of the Zodiac and the second-largest constellation overall, behind Hydra.

Locating Virgo

Virgo covers 1,294 square degrees. Most of the constellation's stars are dim, but Virgo's bright blue-white star, Spica, is fairly easy to locate. Stargazers can use the Big Dipper as a guide. Follow the curve of the handle down to the southeast until you come to the bright star Arcturus, in the Boötes constellation. Continue the arc to the next bright star, which is Spica. There's even a mnemonic phrase to help you remember: "Follow the arc to Arcturus, then speed on to Spica."

Tied to fertility and agriculture, Virgo appears to stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere during the spring and summer months and to those in the Southern Hemisphere in autumn and winter.

Stars, exoplanets and deep-sky objects

Spica, also known as Alpha Virginis, is the brightest star in the constellation. Spica ranks as the 16th brightest star in the night sky and can be regarded as a nearly perfect example of a star of the first magnitude. It is a blue giant about 260 light-years from Earth. The star is about twice as big as the sun and its luminosity is 2,300 times that of the sun. It is known as the "ear of wheat" being held by Virgo.

The second brightest star is Gamma Virginis, also known as Porrima and Arich, is a binary star. The third-brightest star, Epsilon Virginis, is a yellow giant that is also known as Vindemiatrix, or the Grape Gatherer.

Zeta Virginis, or Heze, is a white dwarf notable for its exceptionally short rotation period of less than 0.5 days.

The Virgo Galaxy Cluster contains 11 deep space objects catalogued by Charles Messier, more than any constellation except Sagittarius, which has 15. [Video: Galactic Eyes Peer Out Through Virgo]

Notable exoplanets in Virgo include:

Mythology

Virgo is typically linked to Dike, the Greek goddess of justice, and Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, the harvest goddess. According to Greek mythology, the earth experienced eternal spring until the god of the underworld abducted the spring maiden Persephone.

In astrology, which is not a science, Virgo is the fifth sign in the Zodiac and represents those born between Aug. 23 and Sept. 22.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Howell, Space.com Contributor

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Author Bio


Kim Ann Zimmermann,

Kim Ann Zimmermann is a contributor to Space.com. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Glassboro State College.