History of the Constellations

Stars and Constellations

Virgo

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Contents of this page: | Description | Skylore | Modern Culture | Origin and History | Special Stars | Galaxies | Submit new info... |

Images (at bottom of page): | Virgo Chart: (Figure 1) | Hyginus, 1482, page E4v: (Figure 2) | Ptolemy, 1541-const, page Virgo: (Figure 3) | Bayer, 1661, page zCc: (Figure 4) | Bayer, 1697, page I2v: (Figure 5) | Bayer, 1697, page I3r: (Figure 6) | Bayer, 1697, page I3v: (Figure 7) | Bayer, 1697, page I4r: (Figure 8) | Bode, 1801, page l: (Figure 9) | Bode, 1801, page r: (Figure 10) | Aspin, 1825, page Virgo: (Figure 11) | Images digitized by Hannah Magruder.

Constellation Data

Description

Continue past Arcturus on the curve from the Dipper’s handle ("Arc to Arcturus, then speed on to Spica"). To "Speed on to Spica," go the same distance as it took to reach Arcturus. If it’s not below the horizon, Spica is the brightest star of the constellation Virgo the Maiden. Although Virgo is the second largest constellation in the sky, the rest of its stars are faint. Yet don’t be surprised if you often see a bright visiting planet nearby.

Virgo was long ago recognized for its importance, since it contains the Sun on the day of the Autumn Equinox. Spica lies nearly on the path the Sun follows across the sky, which is called the ecliptic. You won’t see this constellation in the early autumn, for then Virgo lies in the daytime sky.

Skylore and Literature

Goddess of agriculture and harvest-time, holding a shock of wheat.

Modern Culture

Origin and History

Virgo is included in the ancient star catalogs of Eudoxos of Knidos, Aratos of Soli, and Ptolemy.

Special Stars

Contains a powerful quasar.

Arcturus was known in Middle Earth as Morwinyon. (Rachel Magruder)

Galaxies

The Virgo Cluster of galaxies is justly famous as a remarkable part of the sky, well-known to deep-sky observers, about 40,000,000 Light Years away from the Milky Way. The Virgo Cluster of galaxies contains perhaps 3,000 galaxies. To see these beautiful galaxies we must turn a powerful telescope to sweep the sky between the constellations of Virgo the Virgin and Leo the Lion, near the small constellation Coma Berenices (Berenice’s Hair). In a telescope we see them as they were 30-50 million years ago. M87 is one of the brightest galaxies in the Virgo Cluster. Much nearer to us than the Virgo Cluster is one of my deep-sky favorites, the spectacular Sombrero Galaxy, only 25 million light years away.

Now, all the stars that are visible to the naked eye lie within our own Milky Way galaxy. This means that the stars that make up all the constellations, including Virgo and Leo and Coma Berenices, are stars of our own galaxy. The galaxies we see in these constellations are not actually located in the constellations, they are only viewed along the same line of sight. Were we to actually go to another galaxy, even the Andromeda galaxy (which is the closest major galaxy to the Milky Way, only 2.2 million light years away), then the stars of the Milky Way would not be distinguishable. It makes no sense to talk of Andromeda or Virgo as seen from another galaxy, since from another galaxy any observer would see all of the Milky Way stars together, just as we see a small patch of fuzzy light when we look at the Andromeda galaxy. It is not that Andromedans would see our constellation Andromeda differently; they would not distinguish it from the Milky Way at all.

Elliptical galaxies: M49, mag. 8.5. M60, mag. 9.0. M84, mag. 9.4. M86, mag. 9.2. M87, mag. 8.7. M89, mag. 10.3.

Spiral galaxies: M58, mag. 9.9. M59, mag. 10.0.

M61, mag. 9.6. M90, mag. 9.6.

M104, Sombrero Galaxy (Spiral galaxy), mag. 8.3.

Submit new info...

Many excellent websites provide a variety of information about constellations for amateur astronomers and telescope users (see sidebar links for a few of these). These constellation pages are not intended to duplicate those efforts, but are devoted to two aims: First, they are intended to assist the beginning skywatcher, including students in history of science survey courses, in becoming familiar with Basic Celestial Phenomena (BCP). Second, these pages are devoted to the history of the constellations and the history of astronomy. They are intended to serve as a repository for collaborative use and reference. Do you have additional historical information about the stars or constellation described on this page? Please submit additional information to kmagruder@ou.edu. Submissions will be attributed. Editors for historical information are Kerry Magruder, JoAnn Palmeri, Peter Barker, and Laura Gibbs.

Oklahoma History of Science exhibits: http://hos.ou.edu/exhibits/. Page revised 4/15/04

Bad links, misplaced images, or questions? Contact Kerry Magruder. Thank you.

"If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown. But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile." R. W. Emerson, Nature

Images

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Vir Chart
Figure 2 Figure 2 - Return to Text

Hyginus, 1482

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Ptolemy, 1541-const

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Bayer, 1661

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Bayer, 1697

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Bayer, 1697

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Bayer, 1697

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Bayer, 1697

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Bode, 1801

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Bode, 1801

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Aspin, 1825

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Exhibit credit: Kerry Magruder.

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These teaching resources provided by the History of Science Department at the University of Oklahoma.

Unless otherwise indicated, all images courtesy History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries. Image Terms of Use.

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