Virgo is one of the more prominent of Spring constellations -- not because it is the second largest constellation but because of the dominance of its brightest star, Spica. It is also home to one of the richest fields of galaxies, known as the Virgo Galaxy Cluster. About 3000 galaxies form this immense cluster but they are all quite faint, not surprising as they are about 65 million light years away. Thus at least a medium sized telescope is needed to enjoy their variety. Several of the more prominent members are mentioned below, if only to whet your curiosity and mark the spot for later telescopic investigation. While Virgo's asterism doesn't stand out dramatically, if you are fortunate to have nice dark nights you can easily follow the 3rd- and 4th- mag stars. Begin by visiting Spica, easily found as this star forms the southern tip of a large triangle with Regulus and Arcturus.
Alpha Virginis, or Spica, is a 1.0 visual magnitude blueish star 262 light years away. Like all zodiacal constellations, the stars of Virgo are found very near the ecliptic. Locating the star is quite easy as it forms a large triangle with two other bright stars, Regulus and Arcturus. The finest binary in Virgo is Porrima -- gamma Virginis, while the celebrated Sombrero Galaxy lies just two FOVs to the west of Spica.
Epsilon Virginis is named Vindemiatrix (Grape Gatherer) and the star represents Virgo's right hand, extended from the maiden's body.
The area is of great interest for those with large telescopes, for the region between epsilon and omicron is full of galaxies of all sorts, including fourteen Messier objects (if one also counts those in nearby Coma Berenices) although it would take a highly detailed star chart to find them all, and a rather large scope as well.
Gamma Virginis was named Porrima by the Romans, after two different goddesses of prophecy in antiquity. Porrima is a splendid binary for medium sized telescopes, with an orbit of 168.7 years. The companion is closing in on its closest separation and will be difficult to resolve for the next decade or so. Porrima is fourteen degrees northwest of Spica. Place Spica at the southeastern edge of your glasses. Theta Virginis will be just in (or out) of your field of vision at the north. Place this star at the southeastern edge of your glasses and Porrima will be just out of view to the northwest. Bring this star into your FOV and place it at the extreme eastern edge. You'll have both gamma and eta in view.
Dozens of galaxies are in the vicinity but large telescopes are generally needed to resolve them. With binoculars you might see some evidence of M61, a large face-on spiral galaxy eight degrees northwest of Porrima. Follow the asterism around from eta to beta then nu Virginis. With eta at the extreme southeastern edge of your glasses, move half field of vision northwest. Beta Virginis will be centred. Place beta near the bottom and you can also see nu Virginis. We are just south of Denebola here and a quick way of moving to this region of the skies is to first find Denebola and move south two and a half FOVs.
Nu Virginis depicts the Maiden's head, and while many of the other stars of the constellation carry proper names, this star seems not to have been called anything in antiquity. The star is easily found by dropping due south a full field of view from Denebola. You'll see a little triangle. Nu Virginis the tip, pointing south. The star and neighbouring omicron are convenient sign-posts, as you make your way around the asterism.
Omicron Virginis isn't very notable as a star, it's just an ordinary 4th-magnitude star 170 light years away. But it's easy to find, and from this point you can investigate a number of objects in Virgo. Again, from Denebola, drop due south one FOV. You'll find a small triangle pointing south. This is nu Virginis. Omicron is the star to the east, and east of omicron is a vast field of galaxies just waiting to be explored.
R Virginis is a long-period variable with an abnormally short period, only 145.6 days. The star has a low of between 11 and 12 visual magnitude and maximum usually of around 7.0 although it has been known to achieve a 6.2 visual magnitude. At omicron Virginis you'll see two stars at the opposite edge. Move these two stars across your FOV and R Virginis is centred. M49, in the same FOV, is quite difficult even in small telescopes and utterly impossible with binoculars.
Zeta Virginis is just north of Spica, about a third of the distance from Spica to Arcturus. Between zeta Virginis and gamma Virginis is a delightful binary, Struve 1719: two 8th-mag stars which, combined, shine with a visual magnitude of 7.0. The fixed companion is 7.5" from the primary with a position angle of 1º (due north from the primary). The binary is situated almost exactly in the middle of a triangle formed by gamma, zeta, and delta Virginis.
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