Virgo is a Zodiac constellation associated with the month of September. Lying between Leo the Lion and Libra the Scales in the Zodiac, Virgo is the second largest constellation in the sky; only Hydra the long dragon is bigger in area. Despite its great size though, Virgo is not a cinch to find in the night sky. Here is how you can find and identify the constellation of Virgo the Maiden.
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Things you need
- Lawn chair or blanket
Search for Virgo in the springtime. Wait until about 11:00 p.m. as the weather gets warmer to search for Virgo. In the northern hemisphere, it can best be seen at this time.
Find the Big Dipper. This asterism, a group of stars forming a shape, is like a road map to the other constellations and Virgo is no exception. The Big Dipper will be in the direction of north as it rotates around the northern celestial pole like the hands of a clock. Determine the seven stars that form the shape of a huge ladle in the sky and follow the "handle" of the dipper in an arc out into space until you come to the brilliant star Arcturas, in Bootes the Herdsman.
From Arcturus, continue the arc until you come to Spica. Spica is the 15th brightest star in the sky and by far the most luminous in all of the Vorgo constellation. Spica is a blue giant star that is over 260 light years from Earth. Spica means "ear of wheat," a reference to Virgo being portrayed as the goddess of the harvest in some cultures. It looks brighter than it actually is due to the fact that the region of the sky it occupies is devoid of any other bright stars.
Imagine Virgo as a giant letter "A" laying on its side. It does not resemble a woman or a maiden in any way, shape, or form so if that's what you are expecting, you will be disappointed. Spica marks the bottom of the lower side of the "A," which is wavy in appearance.
Don't strain your eyes to see the famed cluster of galaxies in Virgo. They are not visible to the naked eye nor even a good pair of binoculars. Virgo contains many interesting deep sky objects, more than any other constellation except for Sagittarius the Archer, yet you cannot discern any of them without the aid of a fine telescope. The galaxy cluster is renowned among astronomers, with up to eleven galaxies visible in a very small area of the sky.