Spica is the brightest star in the Virgo constellation. It is a binary star, comprising two stars, that are indistinguishable from one another. It is also one of the brightest stars in the sky.
A constellation can be described as a specific configuration of stars seen in the sky. Until today, 88 constellations have been discovered that can be observed from the Earth. Among the 88, there are 12 zodiac constellations that are named after the zodiac signs. Virgo is one of the 48 constellations listed by Ptolemy.
The Virgo is the second largest constellation in the sky (Hydra being the largest one). The constellation of Leo lies to the east, whereas Libra lies to the west of Virgo. The constellations of Bootes and Coma Berenice lie to the north of the Virgo; whereas the constellations of Corvus, Hydra and Crater are located to the south. The structure of the constellation appears like a virginal maiden, hence, the name Virgo (it is a Latin word for virgin). There are many beautiful galaxies housed in this constellation.
The stars in the Virgo constellation include: Alpha Virginis (Spica), Beta Virginis (Zavijava), Gamma Virginis (Porrima), Delta Virginis (Auva), Epsilon Virginis (Vindemiatrix), Eta Virginis (Zaniah), Iota Virginis (Syrma), Mu Virginis (Rijl al Awwa), and Zeta Virginis (Heze).
The Virgo Cluster, comprising several galaxies, forms a part of the Virgo Supercluster. It is believed to contain 1300-2000 galaxies, with a mixture of both spiral and elliptical ones. Several galaxies in the Virgo Cluster were discovered and cataloged by Charles Messier. The M87, M49, NGC 4216, are some of the most notable galaxies of the cluster.
There are several fables, legends, and myths associated with the Virgo. The maiden is represented by various goddesses across different cultures. The Babylonians linked her to Ishtar, the goddess of procreation; whereas in the Greek mythology, the Virgo stands for Astrea or Dike who was the daughter of Zeus and Temis. The Romans attributed Virgo to Ceres, the goddess of crops and fields. Erigone, Persephone, and Isis are the other goddesses and maidens that symbolize Virgo.
According to one myth, Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, was abducted and taken to the underground. This angered her mother Demeter, and hence, she, as a revenge, ruined the earth and its harvests, leaving people to starve. Zeus intervened and issued an order that Persephone should spend only some time of the year in the underground. The natural course of the nature and the harvests returned when the order was carried out immediately. It is also believed that when Persephone is underground, the earth experiences autumn and winter.
- The name of the brightest star, Spica, means 'ear of grain' in Latin.
- The abbreviation of the constellation is VIR.
- The total area covered is 1294 square degrees.
- The nearest star to the Earth is the Ross 128.
- The sun remains in the Virgo constellation for 45 days, which is longer than any other constellation.
- The month of May is considered as the best time to view this constellation.
- The Sombrero galaxy lies in the constellation of Virgo. However, it is not a part of the Virgo Cluster.
- First Point of Libra, also known as autumnal equinox, is an equinoctial point that lies in this constellation.
- Messier 49 (or M49), discovered by Charles Messier in 1771, was the first galaxy of the Virgo cluster to be discovered. It is also the brightest galaxy of the cluster.
- Another interesting galaxy, the Messier 87 (M87), is a giant elliptical galaxy located close to us. It was discovered by Charles Messier in 1781.
The Virgo is the sixth zodiac sign, symbolized by a virginal maiden and ruled by planet mercury. Sometimes, the maiden is pictured carrying ears of grain. Therefore, Virgo is also a symbol of harvest. People born in between 23rd August to 22nd September belong to Virgo. These individuals are marked by intelligence, modesty, and shyness. They are also extremely practical and methodical.
The Virgo, unlike other constellations, is easy to locate and observe in the sky. If you ever get an opportunity, do not miss it as watching stars in a constellation can be a thrilling experience.