Constellation Virgo

Virgo, in the sky.
Virgo, in the sky.

Constellation Virgo is the sixth zodiac sign and the second largest constellation.

About Constellation Virgo

Alhough the sun sign birth dates for Virgo are for those born between August 23 and September 22, the constellation Virgo does not appear in the sky until around mid to late September and is visible until mid to late October.

Finding the constellation in the sky may be a bit difficult without the aid of a telescope since most of the stars in this large constellation are relatively faint except for its leading star, Spica. The name Spica means "ear of wheat" and this star is the 15th brightest in the sky. In order to find Spica, all you have to do is follow the curve of the Big Dipper's "handle".

Finding the Constellation Virgo

Once you've located the Big Dipper's handle, create an imaginary arc to the next brightest star. This is the star Arcturus. Next, create another imaginary line straight down and slightly to the left from Arcturus to the next brightest star. This star is Spica in the constellation Virgo.

Major Stars in Virgo

Aside from its largest star, Spica, Virgo is home to some of the brightest stars in the universe, including:

  • Zavijava: Also known as Beta Virginis, Zavijava is the fifth brightest star in the universe.
  • Porrima: This star is also known as Gamma Virginis and Arich. Porrima is a binary star, so it's actually made up of two stars.
  • Auva: Also known as Delta Virginis, this star is easily visible with the naked eye and ranks 11th of the brightest stars.

Galaxies in the Constellation Virgo

There are over 2,000 galaxies within Virgo. These galaxies are referred to as the Virgo Galaxy Cluster. The galaxies in Virgo were first discovered by French astronomer Charles Messier. Messier catalogued his Virgo Galaxy Cluster findings as well as many other nebulae and star clusters in his Catalog of Nebulae and Star Clusters, published in the late 1700s.

Markarain's Chain

The group of galaxies located at the center of the Constellation Virgo is named Markarain's Chain. This chain is said to contain at least eight galaxies (some astronomers argue that there are more).

Markarain's Chain is the nearest group of galaxies to the Local Group of galaxies, which includes the Milky Way. Many astronomers believe that at least seven of the galaxies are original to the chain while the others have been drawn into the chain via its gravitational pull.

The gravitational pull of the constellation and its galaxies affects the Milky Way. Although the Milky Way is currently gravitating away from Virgo and its galaxy clusters, many astronomers state that the Milky Way will eventually begin gravitating toward Virgo's galaxy clusters.

Virgo Lore and Mythology

Being the only female figure in the zodiac, Virgo has ties to just about every major goddess in folklore and mythology including:

  • Ishtar
  • Isis
  • Demeter
  • Ceres

The most well known story is the one of Demeter and her daughter Persephone.

Demeter and Persephone

The earth goddess Demeter is the sister of Zeus. Zeus ordered Demeter to marry Poseidon, but she refused and instead married a mortal who was a farmer. Upon finding out that his sister had defied him, Zeus killed the farmer and impregnated Demeter with their daughter, Persephone.

All the gods and goddesses loved Persephone, including Hades. One day while Persephone was out picking flowers, Hades opened up the earth and Persephone fell in. The god of the underworld had fallen in love with Persephone and decided to keep her as his prisoner.

Meanwhile, Demeter searched for her daughter all across the earth, but did not find her. As a result of her despondence, all the vegetation on the earth began to die. Zeus, tiring of everything on Earth dying, sent Hermes out to bring Persephone back. Hades agreed to let Persephone go, only if she hadn't eaten anything since she had been in the underworld. Persephone had just eaten seven pomegranate seeds (the number varies) before Hermes came to retrieve her.

It was Rhea, the mother of Zeus, Demeter and Hades, who came up with a solution: Persephone spends half the year with Hades in the underworld and the other half on earth with her mother. During the time she spends with her mother, the earth flourishes. When she has to go back to be with her husband Hades, plants, trees and flowers begin dying due to a depressed and despondent Earth Goddess Demeter.

As a way of pleasing his sister and preventing everything on the earth from dying, Zeus created a picture of Persephone in the stars, known as the constellation Virgo.

Constellation Virgo