Virgo the Maiden


When you look along the ecliptic where the Sun, Moon and planets travel, you will see this constellation with its bright star Spica in the southeast.

It's a large constellation, but not very bright except for its brightest star Spica. It also contains many galaxies. The best evening viewing of it is in spring and summer, with May and June being the best months.

This constellation is known as Virgo the Virgin or Maiden. It's the second-largest constellation in our sky. To find it look for the Big Dipper in the northwest, then follow its tail toward the southeast about 30 degrees until you find the bright orange star Arcturus. Then go straight past it another 30 degrees to find bright blue Spica. It also has one red star to the right of Spica. All of its other stars are white to make a total of 13 stars.

Once a month the moon cozies up to Spica, and sometimes even covers it. That's because it sits along the ecliptic. Also, sometimes the planets visit Spica.

Spica is a whirling double star. They orbit each other every 4 days. It's located about 262 light years from us and looks like a single star even though it's two. Both are larger and hotter than our Sun. They're separated by 11 million miles. Earth is 93.3 million miles from our Sun. So now you know how close they are.

Because these stars are so close, they orbit quickly around each other. Their mutual gravity distorts each star into an egg shape. Their light is more than 2.20 times brighter than our Sun. It's the 15thbrightest star in our sky that we can see.

If you have a telescope, you can observe the galaxies that Virgo contains. M 104, the Sombrero Galaxy is bright and easily seen with a telescope. You may even be able to see it with binoculars. It's just to the right of Spica. The other constellations are mostly to the upper right of Virgo. So I would even check her out with binoculars to see what I can see.

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