Virgo means “virgin” or “young maiden” in Latin. It represents the goddess of justice or the goddess of the harvest.
Virgo ranks as the largest constellation of the Zodiac and the second-largest constellation in the sky, overall, occupying an area of 1294 square degrees.
Virgo appears to stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere during the spring and summer months and to those in the Southern Hemisphere in autumn and winter. The constellation Virgo the Maiden fully returns to sky at nightfall – with her feet planted on the eastern horizon – by late April or early May. Virgo appears in the evening on late May, June and July evenings, too. Then by late August or September, Virgo begins her descent into the glow of evening twilight.
Virgo is located in the third quadrant of the southern hemisphere and can be seen at latitudes between +80° and -80°. It lies between Leo (to the east) and Libra (to the west). Some other neighboring constellations are Boötes and Coma Berenice (to the north), Corvus, Crater and Hydra (to the south) and Serpens Caput.
Virgo has 20 stars with known planets, more than any other constellation. The stars in the Virgo constellation include: Spica, Zavijava, Porrima, Auva, Vindemiatrix, Zaniah, Syrma, Rijl al Awwa and Heze.
Spica is the brightest star in Virgo and the 15th brightest star in the sky. It lies 260 light-years from Earth. The star’s luminosity is about 2,300 times that of the Sun. Spica is classified as a blue giant approximately 260 light years distant from the solar system. It is one of the nearest massive double stars to the solar system.
Zavijava is the fifth brightest star in Virgo and is 35.65 light years distant from the Sun. It is similar to the Sun, but bigger and more massive. It is a metal-rich star, one with an abundance of elements heavier than helium.
Porrima is a binary star, 38.6 light years distant. It consists of two F class stars with close apparent magnitudes. It is the second brightest star in Virgo.
Auva is a red giant 202 light years distant. It is a suspected binary star, with a K class dwarf located nearby. The dwarf is believed to orbit the star with a period of over 200,000 years.
Vindemiatrix is the third brightest star in Virgo. It is a yellow giant, approximately 102 light years distant. It is about 77 times more luminous than the Sun.
Zaniah is a triple star system in Virgo. The three stars form a very close system and can’t be resolved in a telescope. The system is 265 light years distant.
Virgo also contains a number of notable deep sky objects. It is home to the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, which lies about 59 million light-years from Earth and contains at least 1,300 member galaxies. Notable objects in the Virgo Cluster include Messier 86, Messier 87 and Messier 49.
Messier 86 is an elliptical galaxy located at the centre of the Virgo Cluster. It is approaching our galaxy, the Milky Way, at 244 kilometres per second. It is approximately 52 million light-years distant. Messier 87 is the largest and most luminous galaxy in the Virgo Cluster and the largest giant elliptical galaxy near our solar system. It is an elliptical galaxy about 55 million light years distant. It has an active nucleus that emits strong multiwavelength radiation. Messier 49 is another elliptical galaxy approximately 49 million light years distant. It is the brightest object in the Virgo Cluster. M49 contains about 5900 globular clusters, 10 billion years old on average. The galaxy is believed to have a supermassive black hole with 565 million solar masses at its core.
VIRGO CONSTELLATION MYTHOLOGY
The goddess who is linked to Virgo is considered a fertility goddess, or goddess of the harvest. This resonates with the view of Virgo being the caretaker of mankind through her fertility. The constellation Virgo is thought to be a woman holding a spike of corn, thus reinforcing the Harvest Mother mythology.
The first was that Virgo was Persephone, the beautiful daughter of Zeus, king of the gods and Demeter, goddess of the fertility of the earth.
One spring day as Persephone was wandering out in the fields, Hades, god of the underworld, grabbed her and took her down into the underworld to become his wife. But this stubborn young goddess refused to accept her captivity, refusing to eat or even to speak to Hades. He tried to give her jewels, fancy clothes, and even slaves to entertain her, but she still would not speak to him.
When Demeter found out that Hades had abducted her daughter and that Zeus- who had been bribed by Hades- would not intervene, she became so angry and overcome with grief over the loss of her only child that she abandoned her role as the goddess of fruitfulness and fertility. In some parts of the globe, the winter cold turned the once-verdant Earth in to a frigid wasteland, while elsewhere the summer heat scorched the Earth and gave rise to pestilence and disease. A great famine followed, crops failed, animals and people began to die. The Earth would not bear fruit again until Demeter was reunited with her daughter.
Finally, Zeus gave in and told Demeter that she could have her daughter back. However, under the ancient Law of Abode, if Persephone had accepted food, she would have to be considered a guest, not a captive, and would have to stay in the underworld as Hades’ bride.
Demeter immediately sent Hermes on his winged sandals to fetch Persephone. But before Hermes could get there, an evil man who hated Demeter took a sweet red pomegranate and broke it in half and offered some of it to Persephone who had grown very hungry by this time. Before she could stop herself, she had eaten six of the sweet juicy seeds. When Hermes arrived, Hades claimed Persephone as his bride under the Law of Abode because she had eaten the six pomegranate seeds.
When Demeter heard this, she declared that no crops or flowers would ever grow if her daughter became the bride of death. Zeus declared a compromise. Each year, Persephone would have to spend six months with Hades because she had eaten the six seeds. The other six months she could spend with her mother. Both Hades and Demeter had to agree because Zeus was the King. But Demeter also kept her promise. During the six months when her daughter had to be in the underworld with Hades, no crops would grow. In the spring, when Persephone returned, the flowers and the crops in the fields would grow again.
To this day, spring returns to the Northern Hemisphere when Persephone is reunited with Demeter, but the winter season reigns when Persephone dwells in the underworld.
The second myth of Virgo is found in the Greek myth of Creation. The story goes that before men or animals lived on earth, a race of giants, called titans, ruled the world. Two titan brothers, Prometheus and Epimetheus, were given the task of creating human beings and animals.
When this was done, Epimetheus set about giving various gifts to the animals- wings to one kind, claws to another, etc. He was so generous that when it came time to dispense something to mankind, he had nothing left to give, so he asked Prometheus for help. Prometheus went into heaven and came back with the gift of fire. This made man superior to other species, for with fire he could keep warm, make tools, and eventually develop commerce and science.
Jupiter, chief of gods, became so angry at the gods’s secret of fire being given to man that he bound Prometheus to a rock on Mount Caucasus where an eagle constantly tore at his liver, though never entirely con-suming it. He also sent a curse to earth- brought by the first woman. Her name was Pandora, meaning “a gift of all the gods.” Pandora brought with her a box, which she was told never to open. One day, seized with curiosity, she lifted the lid of the box. Out sprang terrible plagues to haunt mankind forever after: sickness and death for the body; anger, envy, and revenge for the mind. At the bottom of the box lay the one thing that had not escaped, hope.
During the terrible times that followed, the gods deserted earth one by one and went to live in heaven. The very last to leave was Astraea, goddess of innocence and purity. After leaving the earth, Astraea was placed among the stars and became the constellation of Virgo. The legend is that one day the Golden Age will come again, and that Astraea will return to earth.
Another story is that of Erigone, daughter of Icarius. Her father, who had been taught by Dionysus to make wine gave some to some shepherds, who became intoxicated. Their companions, thinking they had been poisoned, killed Icarius and buried him under a tree on Mount Hymettus. Erigone, guided by her faithful dog Maera, found his grave, and hanged herself on the tree. Dionysus sent a plague on the land, and all the maidens of Athens, in a fit of madness, hanged themselves like Erigone. Erigone was set among the stars as Virgo.