continued from Starlit Sky: 14. Pole star
The next constellation that we will look at is Virgo. It is called Kanya raasi in the Indian Astronomical system. It is the 6th raasi.
Virgo constellation is envisaged as a young girl. In Latin, the name signifies a virgin. Greeks associated the girl to goddess Demeter, the goddess of agriculture. The Romans thought of the constellation as their goddess Ceres. Sometimes they also associated it with their virgin goddess Astraea. During the middle ages, the virgo came to be associated with the virgin Mary.
It can be easily identified by its brightest star Spica.
Spica is also called Alpha Virginis. It is the 16th brightest star in the night sky with an apparent brightness of 0.98. It is about 250 light years away and is a binary star. The two stars that form the binary orbit each other every 4 days and are so close each other that their combined gravitational effect on each other have made them egg shaped instead of the usual spherical shape. They can only be separated by their spectra. That is, they cannot be distinguished by a telescope. Isn’t that surprising? The primary star in this binary is a massive star which is 10 times the mass of the Sun and 7 times its radius. Its luminosity is 12,000 times that of the Sun and 8 times that of its companion. Can you imagine that size and that brightness? It is quite mind boggling!
Spica is called Chitta or Chitra star in the Indian Astronomical System. It is one of 27 stars that are of importance to the Indian System.
Apart from the stars that form the constellation, Virgo is home to many galaxies. By this I mean to say that we can spot other deep sky objects in this constellation. Many galaxy clusters can be seen in the Virgo. Some of these deep sky objects are: M 49, M 58, M 59, M60, M61, M84, M87, M104 (Sombrero galaxy) and a lot more.
In the western understanding, the girl in the virgo constellation is a virgin. But in the Indian Astronomical system, the lady is Draupadi, the heroine in the epic Mahabharata.
Draupadi had five husbands, each of them warriors and were embodiments of different celestial gods. The eldest was Yudhistira, the son of Lord Yama (God of Death). He was regarded as an embodiment of Dharma or righteousness. The second was Bhima, the son of Vayu (God of Wind). He was the strongest among all men. The most famous archer Arjuna, the son of Indra (King of all Gods), was the third. The twins Nakula and Sahadeva, the sons of the twin gods Ashwini Kumaras, (Gods of medicine) were the fourth and fifth husbands of Draupadi.
Draupadi in Virgo is surrounded by her five husbands. These stars representing her five husbands are surrounding Draupadi and are in constellations surrounding Virgo.
The star Magha (Regalus) from the Simha raasi (Leo) is Yudhistira.
The star Pubba (Zosma) from the Simha raasi (Leo) is Arjuna.
Leo is to the west of Virgo.
The star Swati (Arcturus) from the Bootis constellation is Bhima.
Bootis is to the north of Virgo.
Arcturus (Swati), together with Spica (Chitta) and Regalus (Magha) forms a Spring Triangle.
The stars Alpha and Beta Centauri to the south of Virgo are considered as the twins Nakula and Sahadeva.
There is another reference to the constellations Leo and Virgo in the Indian mythology.
When the Virgo is setting in the west, we can see Leo below it. So it looks like the lady in Virgo is riding the lion in Leo. That is a clear image of Goddess Durga riding her lion. So the lady in Virgo is also considered as the Mother Goddess.
Every wondered which star is the nearest to the Earth. If you said Sun, then you are right. The next nearest star to the Earth that can be seen with naked eye is the Alpha Centauri. Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri are to the south of Virgo. They are binary stars that revolve around each other. Alpha Centauri is 4.3 light years away. There is another small red dwarf that revolves around the Alpha and Beta Centauri, it is called Proxima Centauri. Proxima Centauri cannot be seen with the naked eyes. It is slightly nearer to the Earth than Alpha Centauri, about 4.27 light years away.
So coming back to the question: which is the nearest star to the Earth?
This has 3 answers:
- The Sun
- After the Sun, with naked eyes is Alpha Centauri
- With binoculars, Proxima Centauri
to be continued……….