The Virgo constellation of the ‘virgin’ that represents the Zodiac month from August 23 – September 22. However, in modern times the sun passes through the Virgo constellation approximately 1 month later. The Virgo constellation has a single bright star and the shape of the constellations varies greatly. The constellation is between Leo to the west and Libra to the east with Bootes to the north. The bright star of Spica is the only prominent star in the constellation but is conveniently pointed to by the Bootes constellation.
The Virgo constellation is one of the original 48 constellations listed by the Egyptian mathematician Ptolemy, who lived under Roman rule in Alexandria in the 2nd century. These constellations formed the basis for the modern list agreed by the IAU. Constellations from the southern hemisphere, unable to be seen from the Mediterranean, represent the majority of additions to the list.
As the earth moves in its orbit around the sun, each night you are looking at a different portion of the sky. When looking at stars it is important to be aware of what is within your view. Northern hemisphere stargazers can group constellations into 3 groups; circumpolar, summer and winter constellations. The circumpolar constellations are in the north sky, appear to move around the north star and are visible throughout the year. The constellations in the south sky are only visible for part of the year and are grouped as either summer or winter constellations. Each is visible from between 4 to 10 months.
It is important to be aware of the specific time of year and hour of the night when deciding what to look for. These pages below show the constellations in each group so you can find the constellations that interest you.
CIRCUMPOLAR (year around) – Ursa Major – Cassiopeia – Ursa Minor – Draco – Cepheus
WINTER – Pegasus – Pisces – Aries – Auriga – Taurus – Orion – Canis Major – Canis Minor – Gemini – Lynx – Cancer – Leo – Winter Hexagon
SUMMER – Virgo – Libra – Scorpius – Bootes – Hercules – Lyra – Ophiuchus – Sagittarius – Aquila – Cygnus – Capricornus – Aquarius
Or use this guide to easily see which constellations are easiest to find right now:
Virgo Quick Facts:
Brightest star: Spica, 0.97 magnitude (16th brightest star in the night sky)
Stars brighter than 3 magnitude: 3
Primary stars: 9 (5 stars in a line representing a saucer and 4 additional stars representing a cup – more elaborate shape including 13 stars representing torso and 4 limbs)
Latitude: 10 degrees south – 10 degrees north
Northern Hemisphere Season: Summer (November – August)
Which months can you see Virgo constellation?
Virgo constellation can be seen from November to August but can be found high in the sky at 21:00 during June:
- Early evening viewers (before 21:00) can find the constellation from April in the eastern sky until August in the western sky. Virgo constellation will be visible overhead in June.
- Mid evening viewers (21:00-23:30) can find the constellation from March in the eastern sky until July in the western sky. Virgo constellation will be visible overhead in May.
- Late evening viewers (after 23:30) can find the constellation from February in the eastern sky until June in the western sky. Virgo will be visible overhead in April.
- Early morning viewers can find the constellation from November in the eastern sky to March in the western sky. Virgo will be visible overhead in January.
As time passes the constellation will gradually appear earlier in the night with ranges below showing the window of opportunity in each month. Virgo constellation sits between 10 degrees north – 10 degrees south latitude. Therefore, the further south your position the further north it will appear in the sky. At its maximum range it is possible to see Virgo at latitudes between +80 and -80.
Best time to see Virgo constellation:
Best visible at 21:00 in June
November: appear on the eastern horizon at 04:30. It will move west across the sky until sunrise when it will be 20 degrees above the southern horizon.
December: appear on the eastern horizon at 03:00. It will continue moving west until sunrise when it will be 40 degrees above the south east horizon.
January: appear on the eastern horizon at 01:00, reaching its peak at 05:30, 45 degrees above the southern horizon. Shortly after reaching its peak it will be lost to sunrise.
February: appear on the eastern horizon at 23:00, reaching its peak at 03:30, 45 degrees above the southern horizon. It will continue moving west until sunrise when it will be 35 degrees above the western horizon.
March: appear on the eastern horizon at 21:00, reaching its peak at 01:30, 45 degrees above the southern horizon. It will continue moving west until sunrise when it will be 20 degrees above the western horizon.
April: appear on the eastern horizon at 20:00, reaching its peak at 24:30, 45 degrees above the southern horizon. It will continue moving west until 05:00 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the western horizon.
May: 35 degrees above the south east horizon at sunset, reaching its peak at 22:30, 45 degrees above the southern horizon. It will continue moving west until 03:00 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the western horizon.
June: 45 degrees above the southern horizon at sunset. It will continue moving west until 01:00 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the western horizon.
July: 40 degrees above the south west horizon at sunset. It will continue moving west until 23:00 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the western horizon.
August: partially visible above the western horizon before sunset becoming only difficult to observe from 21:00.
Trajectory: The constellation is between 10 degrees south – 10 degrees north which means that for those in low latitudes of the northern hemisphere is will pass high in the southern sky. For those in higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere it will appear in the lower southern sky. Its peak trajectory in Wadi Rum is 45 degrees above the southern horizon from January through June.
Not the right time for Leo constellation? Have a look what constellations you can see tonight.
How to find Virgo constellation?
Virgo has a unclear shape and lacks bright stars making it difficult to find. However Spica is a prominent star and the constellation of Bootes points directly towards this star. Spica is also part of the spring triangle asterism.
Option 1: Bootes
The Bootes constellation conveniently points directly to Spica, the brightest star in Virgo. The diamond shape of Bootes can be interpreted as an arrow pointed south with Arcturus at its point. If you move in the directly of the arrow slightly further than the distance of the diamond you will find Spica.
Option 2: Spring Triangle
The spring triangle is an asterism that connects the 3 brightest stars in the evening sky during spring. The stars that form the spring triangle are Arcturus in Bootes (4th brightest star), Spica in Virgo (16th brightest star) and Regulus in Leo (21st brightest star). If you have identified this asterism then Spica is the star in the south east corner.
Learn how to form the shape of Virgo constellation
There are various interpretations of the Virgo constellation. None of the widely suggested formations create an obvious shape or are easy to form but they do include the same group of stars. The shape that incorporates the most prominent stars and is the most basic is explained below with the variations subsequently explained.
The simplest form appears as a cup and saucer similar to those that we serve tea in Wadi Rum. However it is recognised to represent an ear of grain from the constellations earliest origins. The ear being the seat at the tip of the stem that the grain sits within. The cup and saucer description will be used for clarity in the explanation below.
STEP 1: Identify the five stars that represent the flat saucer
- Spica represents the left end of the saucer
- Move north west one-sixth the distance to Arcturus (the star north in Bootes) to find the second star in the saucer
- Angle slightly right and continue the same distance to reach Porrima the third star in the saucer
- Curving slightly further right and moving half the distance you will find the forth star in the saucer
- The fifth star in the saucer continues in the same direction and is similar distance away as the initial stars at the opposing end of the saucer
STEP 2: Identify the four stars that complete the cup sitting on the saucer
- One side of the cup extends from Porrima the bright star in the middle of the saucer. Perpendicular to the saucer there is a faint star a similar distance as the space between those in the saucer
- Slightly angled tot the right and a similar distance further is the third brightest star in Virgo which represents the top of the right side of the cup
- The other side of the cup reaches from the second star in the saucer between Spica and Porrima. It is also perpendicular to the saucer and a similar distance to the star on the other side of the cup
- Curve to the left slightly with the cup widest at the top and narrowest at the bottom to find the final star in constellation
There is a complex shape that is widely depicted as the Virgo constellation that shows a polygon with 4 limbs stretching out from each corner. It would appear this was a torso with flailing limbs however several old world depictions show one of the longer limbs as reflecting the head and hair of the virgin.
To attempt to identify this shape from the cup and saucer is relatively simple with the core stars representing the base of the cup enclosing to form the torso. The top of the cup represents 2 of the limbs and the others extend from the ends of the saucer. The limbs however reach in various directions and one takes 2 right angle turns to have a dog leg bend.
Virgo constellation in the Ancient World
Babylonian Origin and Greek mythology
The constellation of Virgo originates from ancient Babylon. Babylonians identified it as the Sumerian goddess Shala. Shala was the god of grain. The fertile crest being heavily reliant on grain and with the farming god of Enil represented by the Bootes constellation directly above this constellation developed recognition as the constellation of fertility. The Greeks subsequently associated the constellation with their corresponding goddess Demeter and the Romans with their own Ceres.
The main star retains the Latin name ‘ear of grain’ recognising this past however Ptolemy associated the constellatoin closer to its link with fertility and identified it as the virgin constellation. This was able to reconcile with the female goddess’ who the constellation was associated with and likely represents the close links between fertility rituals and agriculture in the ancient world.
There is evidence that the virgin association also relates to the first harvest. Much like recognition of virgin olive oil, there are Latin references to the main star Spica as the ‘virgin ear of grain’. The constellation and star Spica begin to appear on the horizon during the wheat harvest in April and may have marked the time for ancient farmers when it would have appeared weeks earlier. It is suggested that this reference may have been take by Ptolemy when idenitifying the constellation as the virgin.
Virgo has since been associated with various myths and stories of nobel virgins including that of Virgin Mary.
Main stars in Virgo constellation
Spica (+0.97m, 250ly, 416 suns, #16)
Spica is from Latin meaning ‘ear of grain’. It is the 17st brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +0.97. The distance from earth is 250 light years. It is around 416 times the size of the sun. Spica marks the left end of the saucer.
Porrima (+2.74m, 38ly, double star, #122)
Porrima was an ancient Roman goddess of prophecy. It is the 122nd brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +2.74. It is a double star with a distance from earth is approximately 38 light years. Porrima marks the middle of the saucer and the right base of the cup.
Vindemiatrix (+2.85m, 110ly, 1k suns, #144)
Vindemiatrix from the Greek meaning ‘the grape harvestress’. It is the 144th brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +2.85. The distance from earth is 110 light years. It is 1190 times bigger than the sun. Vindemiatrix marks the right top of the cup.
Deep Sky Objects
Sombrero Galaxy – A galaxy surrounded by a large dust ring
Wadi Rum is one of the best locations in the world to see the full beauty of the stars. Combining high altitudes, clear skies and no light pollution. You may be surprised how many stars are visible to the naked eye. Come with us and spend a night under the stars.