Virgo is one of the constellations of the zodiac, with a name that is Latin for virgin. Lying between Leo to the west and Libra to the east, Virgo is the second-largest constellation in the sky and the largest constellation in the zodiac. The ecliptic intersects the celestial equator within Virgo and Pisces. Underlying these technical two definitions, the sun passes directly overhead of the equator, within Virgo, at the September equinox. Virgo can be easily found through its brightest star, Spica.
The bright star Spica makes it easy to locate Virgo, as it can be found by following the curve of the Big Dipper/Plough to the star Arcturus in Boötes and continuing from there in the same curve.
|Visibility In Pacific Northwest||December to June|
|Best Times To View||May|
|Area||1294 square degrees|
|Main Stars||9, 15|
|Meteor showers||Virginids, Mu Virginids|
|Neighboring Constellations||Boötes, Coma, Berenices, Leo, Crater, Corvus, Hydra, Libra, Serpens Caput|
In the Babylonian MUL.APIN, part of the modern Virgo constellation was known as “The Furrow”, representing the goddess Shala and her ear of grain. One star in this constellation, Spica, retains this tradition as it is Latin for “ear of grain”, one of the major products of the Mesopotamian furrow. For this reason the constellation became associated with fertility.
Early Greek astronomy associated the Babylonian constellation with the Greek goddess of wheat and agriculture, Demeter. The Romans associated it with their goddess Ceres. The constellation was sometimes identified as the virgin goddess Iustitia or Astraea, holding the scales of justice in her hand.
In the Poeticon Astronomicon by Hyginus in the 1st century BC, Parthenos is the daughter of Apollo and Chrysothemis, who died a maiden and was placed among the stars as the constellation. There is an alternative account that says Parthenos was the daughter of Staphylus and Chrysothemis, sister of Rhoeo and Molpadia. After a suicide attempt she and Hemithea were carried by Apollo to Chersonesus, where she became a local goddess. Strabo also mentions a goddess named Parthenos worshipped throughout Chersonesus.
During the Middle Ages, Virgo was sometimes associated with the Virgin Mary.
Besides Spica, other bright stars in Virgo include β Virginis (Zavijava), γ Virginis (Porrima), δ Virginis (Auva) and ε Virginis (Vindemiatrix). Other fainter stars that were also given names are ζ Virginis (Heze), η Virginis(Zaniah), ι Virginis (Syrma), κ Virginis (Kang), λ Virginis (Khambalia) and φ Virginis (Elgafar).
There are 35 verified exoplanets orbiting 29 stars in Virgo, including:
|Star||Number of Exoplanets|
Because of a galaxy cluster called the Virgo Cluster, Virgo is especially rich in galaxies.
Examples of famous deep sky objects in Virgo include Messier 49, Messier 58, Messier 59, Messier 60, Messier 61, Messier 86, Messier 87, Messier 89, Messier 90, and Messier 104. All o these objects are galaxies in 1 form or another.
NGC 4639 is a face-on barred spiral galaxy located 78 Mly from Earth (redshift 0.0034). Its outer arms have a high number of Cepheid variables, which are used as standard candles to determine astronomical distances. Because of this, astronomers used several Cepheid variables in NGC 4639 to calibrate type 1a supernovae as standard candles for more distant galaxies.[4
M87 is the largest galaxy in the Virgo cluster, and is a major radio source, partially due to its jet of electrons being flung out of the galaxy by its central supermassive black hole. This jet makes M87 an object of interest to astronomers who wish to observe black holes in a unique galaxy.
M84 is an elliptical radio galaxy that indicates the presence of an object with a mass 300 million times that of the sun, which is most likely a black hole.
The Sombrero Galaxy, otherwise known as M104, is an edge-on spiral galaxy that has a bulge at its center made up of older stars that are larger than normal. It is surrounded by large, bright globular clusters and has a very prominent dust lane made up of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
NGC 4438 is a peculiar galaxy with an active galactic nucleus, as its supermassive black hole is ejecting jets of matter. NGC 4261 has strong emissions in the radio spectrum.
IC 1101 is a supergiant elliptical galaxy in the Abell 2029 galaxy cluster, which was the largest known galaxy in the universe.
Virgo is also home to the first quasar to ever be identified, quasar 3C 273, which is also the optically brightest quasar in the sky.