Virgo is a constellation in the southern hemisphere. It is the second largest constellation in the sky, smaller only than Hydra. Virgo is an open equatorial constellation with its brighter stars well distributed, occupying the ecliptic between Leo and Libra. Virgo appears as a few strings of dim stars strung out over a large area of the southern sky. As such, a definable pattern is sometimes difficult to make out.
The best way to find Virgo is to jump over from a neighboring constellation. Sweep your eyes along the handle of the Big Dipper until you spot the red star Arcturus of the Bootes constellation. Continue your sweeping in a gentle curve until you spot the next bright star. That should be alpha Virginis, betten known as Spica. It’s the only bright star in the area and the brightest star of constellation Virgo.
Virgo represents the sixth sign of the zodiac. Should you ever spot other very bright points in the area other than Spica, those would be planets.
Virgo is primarily associated with the Greek goddess of justice, Dike, but also with the corn goddess Demeter and Astraea, the daughter of the father of the stars, Astraeus, and the goddess of the dawn, Eos. The Greeks also used to call the constellation Parthenos. In Greek mythology, Dike was so disappointed with humankind and their sins that she spread her wings and flew up to the heavens. In the sky, the constellation Virgo lies next to Libra, which represents the scales of justice. The Babylonians knew the constellation as The Furrow.
Virgo Stars and Deep Space Objects
Virgo’s brightest star is a blue giant called Spica and it has a magnitude 1.0. In fact, this is the 15th brightest star in the nighttime sky and it shines prominently in the south on a northern spring evening. Spica is one of the stars represented on the flag of Brazil.
Virgo contains a number of notable deep sky objects. It is home to the Virgo Cluster of galaxies located about 59 million light-years from Earth. This cluster contains an estimated 1,300 galaxies. Notable objects in the Virgo Cluster include Messier 87 (NGC 4486), Messier 86 (NGC 4406) and Messier 49 (NGC 4472). Messier 86 is an elliptical galaxy located at the centre of the Virgo Cluster. It is traveling towards the Milky Way, our galaxy, at a speed of 244 kilometers per second. Its distance from us is approximately 52 million light-years.
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