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The Constellation Virgo—Mythology, Stars, and More

Updated on December 8, 2016
The Sombrero Hat Galaxy in the "Field of the Nebulae" located in the constellation Virgo.
The Sombrero Hat Galaxy in the "Field of the Nebulae" located in the constellation Virgo. | Source

The Virgo Constellation

The constellation Virgo is one of the most ancient constellations. It has a fascinating mythological history.

This star constellation is replete with nebulae and double stars, though you can’t see many of them with the naked eye.

If you have a powerful telescope, however, you're in for a real treat. Journey with me as I take you into the world of Virgo.

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The Mythology of Virgo

The name Virgo is derived from the word virgin in reference to the goddess Astraea. She was the daughter of Jupiter and Themis. Incidentally, Themis was the goddess of justice in Greek mythology.

In the Golden Age, gods and goddesses walked the earth. Astraea was a respected goddess and looked after her people before she went to live in the sky.

Greek Mythology of Virgo

By the time the Brazen and Iron Ages occurred, Astraea grew jaded with humankind, declaring that people were too evil and she didn't want to deal with them. She decided to leave earth and let them fend for themselves.

She ascended to the sky, to where Virgo is today. This constellation lies upon the ecliptic. She lives at what is known as the Golden Girdle of the Zodiac. The constellation Libra resides beside her, standing for the Scales of Justice.

Egyptian Mythology of Virgo

Virgo was connected to the goddess Isis. Typhon, a monster, relentlessly chased her until she got an ear of grain and dropped it. All the grain kernels became the fainter stars of the Milky Way.

The brightest star in Virgo, Spica, was important to the Egyptians. They built altars to worship this star and called it the “Star of Prosperity.” The name Spica actually means “ear of wheat.”

Until recently, if you looked at older star charts, you would have seen that Virgo was in the sky holding her ear of wheat, Spica.

Virgo, with its main stars.
Virgo, with its main stars. | Source

Location of Virgo in the Sky

Virgo is one of the constellations of the zodiac. It sits between Leo and Scorpio on the ecliptic. Its brightest star, Spica is south of the star Arcturus. If you're looking for Spica, it's helpful to look for Arcturus. See the photo on the "Diamond of Virgo."

The equator, ecliptic and the equinoctial colure are all imaginary celestial circles in the sky and they all intersect in the constellation Virgo, near the star η Virginis. The exact point where they intersect is known as the Autumnal Equinox.

Thus, when the sun passes through this spot, it will be on the actual fall equinox. From that point on, the sun will continue moving south of this imaginary intersection.

A couple of interesting imaginary formations make up parts of Virgo. If you draw a line between Denebola (the bright star in Leo), and connect it to ε, γ and β Virginis, they make up a square in which hundreds of nebulae occur in the sky. In fact, the German astronomer Herschel discovered at least 323 of them! This is known as the “Field of the Nebulae.”

The “Diamond of Virgo” connects Spica in Virgo itself with three other stars: Cor Caroli in the constellation Canes Venatici, Arcturus in Bootes, and Denebola in Leo. Looking for these relatively bright stars helps to locate the constellation Virgo in the sky.

The Diamond of Virgo is made up of four bright stars in four different constellations.
The Diamond of Virgo is made up of four bright stars in four different constellations. | Source

The Stars in Leo have Latin as well as Greek Names

Latin Name
Greek Name
Magnitude
α Virginis
Spica
1
β Virginis
Zavijava
4
γ Virginis
Porrima
3
ε Virginis
Vindemiatrix
3
η Virginis
Zaniah
4
ι Virginis
Syrma
4
To make it a little easier to remember all the stars in a particular constellation, scientists have given them Latin names. But they have Greek names, too. The magnitude is the measure of a star's brightness and the higher the number, the less brig

More About Virgo, Its Stars and Shape

Virgo is almost “Y” shaped. Its middle forms an open box with arms coming out of it.

Spica and γ Virginis sit at the bottom of the box. The stars θ Virginis, γ Virginis, δ Virginis, and ζ Virginis make up the rest of the box. β Virginis extends out almost to β Leonis in Leo, where the Virgo Cluster is located, 50 million light years away.

As mentioned before, Spica is Virgo’s brightest star. It’s a star in the 1st magnitude, meaning it’s one of the brighter stars in the sky. In fact, out of the twenty-most bright stars in the sky, Spica comes in at number 14.

Spica is also a white star, sitting 181 light years away from Earth. It's a little hotter than the Sun, which is a yellow star.

γ Virginis is a double star with a magnitude of 3.5 – a lot less bright than Spica. What makes it so interesting is that by the year 2016, the stars will appear so close together that you won’t be able to distinguish them except with the most powerful of telescopes. The stars revolve around each other every 171.4 years, so it won’t be long before we will be able to see two distinct stars again.

Interestingly, in the year 1756, the recorded distance between the stars of γ Virginis – from an earth perspective – was 6”. But by 1836, that gap had narrowed so closely, they looked to be one. It’s happening again!

If you want to observe this star, it’s best to do so when the sky is not truly dark or in moonlight.

Near to ε Virginis is NGC4762. It looks like a diamond with three stars and 2 nebulae.

The Virgo constellation also has plenty of “messier” objects or “M” objects. This means that they might be galaxies, nebulae, or something similar. M87 is a notable elliptical system that is a source of powerful radio waves. It radiates streams of material, but you’d need a powerful telescope to see them.

M104 is called the “Sombrero Hat Galaxy” because of space dust giving it this appearance. It's located within the "Field of the Nebulae," but its magnitude is rather dim and is difficult to see except with a large telescope.

The imaginary lines that form the "Field of the Nebulae." William Herschel, an astronomer from Germany, discovered more than 323 objects and galaxies in this field.
The imaginary lines that form the "Field of the Nebulae." William Herschel, an astronomer from Germany, discovered more than 323 objects and galaxies in this field. | Source

What's the Difference Between Astronomy and Astrology?

I have reported on the history of Virgo, but I did not include astrological characteristics as they relate to humans. Why is that?

Well, it all began a long time ago when astronomy and astrology grew together as a field of study. The skies held great mystery for our ancestors and their way of explaining the universe was through colorful stories and legends.

It wasn’t until the 1500s when Copernicus and Galileo made important discoveries in astronomy that changed everything. Copernicus discovered that the Earth revolved around the Sun and Galileo made the first telescope. Suddenly, the celestial skies weren’t so mysterious anymore.

These days, scientists apply very logical principles of deductive reasoning in their quest to study the universe. Astrologers apply the belief that planets, constellations and other celestial objects can actually influence human activity here on Earth.

Astrology and astronomy are now two distinct areas of study and one doesn’t necessarily compliment the other.

References

Field Book of the Skies. Olcott, William T. G.P. Putnam's Sons: NY. 1974.

Guide to Stars and Planets. Moore, Sir Patrick. Firefly Books: Buffalo, NY. 2005.

The Handy Space Answer Book. Dupis, Diane Phillis Engelbert. Visible Ink Press: Canton, MI. 1998.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Diamond - retrieved 27 Aug. 2012.

Seasonal Star Charts. Hubbard Scientific Company. 1972.

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    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 3 years ago from Western NC

      Vicki - hehe, If you can find the Big Dipper and Orion, then it's not too hard to find the others. :) You're already well on your way! Thanks for coming by! HUGS

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 3 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      You are always so full of information. Awesome! I can find the Big Dipper and Orion. That's it. I'm constellation illiterate. LOL. Good job, sis!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Docmo - aw, shucks. Thank you. :) I am having fun with this series. I'm planning on doing the next one next week. :D That's great that you have a view of the constellations - I love staring at the night sky. Even with our modern technology, it still provides such a sense of wonder. And you're a Virgo!? That's awesome!

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 5 years ago from UK

      I am thoroughly impressed by your wonderful guide to the constellation virgo. The star chart and the myths behind it are fascinating to read. Having moved to a house that has a great view of unpolluted sky I do look forward to clear skies to view the constellations. Your series is an invaluable guide to this hobby, Cyndi. Oh and btw, I am a Virgo born too!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Howlermunkey - Happy birthday! Glad to meet a Virgo. :)

    • howlermunkey profile image

      Jeff Boettner 5 years ago from Tampa, FL

      Awesomeness, Virgo checking in here (on me bday -- 9/20) , glad to have met ya CC, cool to see you fellow hubber virgos chiming in ;)

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Denise - haha, yeah, I'm loving finding the constellations in the sky, and it's fun to find the ones for your "sign." But yeah, I focused on the history as opposed to the astrology because it really is fascinating. I feel like "Spock" as I answer. Haha. Well, I hope you "Live long and prosper." LOL Hubhugs and cheers!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Excellent info here, CC, although I am still unsure if I can locate the doggone constellation, haha. However, I am so thankful that you made reference to the difference between astrology and astronomy for this particular hub, and why you did not include the characteristics of this zodiac sign.

      I actually opened it expecting it to be all about the virgo person, (male in particular), but didn't find it here. That's okay, the constellation and historical info is enough for me to nod my head and say, "A huh!" LOL

      Great piece-rated up/I/U

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Tammy - you're a Virgo?! YAY! It's gonna be a good year! Thank you so much for stopping by. :D

      Lord - hehe, you ARE a shooting star! Spica, hehe, the ol' head of wheat. Midnight trips to Pittsburgh? Hmm...please tell me that was for work. Haha.

    • Lord De Cross profile image

      Joseph De Cross 5 years ago

      Lol Tammy! Wow CclitGirl this hub took me.. and shoot me upon a star! That Spica is so despicable for being hotter than our Sun. Great graphs and the alpha, beta gamma, epsilon denominations are right on target. I think this constellation was following on my midnight trips from NJ to Pittsburgh. Will check!

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 5 years ago from North Carolina

      This is the best constellation of all. As a virgo, I am a bit partial. Excellent hub!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Billy - aw, no worries! I need to head over to your more recent hubs and have a look-see. :D Yeah, exploring the mythology of the constellations is new, but still tied to my love of anthropology. Haha. I'm glad you still were able to learn something, Teach. Hubhugs!

      IntegrityYes - hey there! Thank you so much for stopping by and for the votes! Have a great evening!

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      IntegrityYes 5 years ago

      That is a very strong one. I voted way up!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It is official: I don't get notices when you post. I never saw this one at all. Sorry Sis! And this is kind of new for you, isn't it? Very interesting; as an old science teacher I knew some of this, but you still managed to give me information I didn't know. Great job Cyndi!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Vellur - thank you so much! Great to see you. Have a great *starry* day. :D

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 5 years ago from Dubai

      An interesting and fascinating read. Awesome hub, voted up.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      teaches - GREAT to see you! I'm glad you're enjoying this - more to come! :D

      alocsin - hey there! You're into astronomy? That's very cool. The Egyptian connection was new to me as I researched this, too. :) Thanks for stopping by.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Though I'm an astronomy afficionado, the information on the Egyptian connection and the names of the stars was new to me. Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      As usual, your post on this series is awesome! I enjoy the education. Voted up.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      whonunuwho - Thank you for reading! I have recently gotten interested in the mythology of the constellations and the more I find out about them, the more I want to learn. I appreciate your feedback!

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 5 years ago from United States

      A very interesting work about Astrology and Astronomy. Well done and well presented. Thank you for sharing this interesting information with us.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Julie - hehe, thank you! Are you a Virgo? I'm trying to do these as the month on the zodiac rolls by. Yeah, those pictures took forever to make, but I like them so much better than a Wikimedia photo - at least as far as "star diagrams" go. :)

      ChristyWrites - Aw, thank you so much! I appreciate the votes and shares! Have a great evening!

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      What a well-crafted hub. Packed full of tidbits of info, great work. I vote up and sharing too.

    • Julie DeNeen profile image

      Blurter of Indiscretions 5 years ago from Clinton CT

      Wow. I'm impressed. You have references at the bottom and homemade pictures and ...well. wow! :)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Terrye - Sauce IS awesome! LOL.

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      Terrye Toombs 5 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Awesomesauce, CC! :)