Constellation of the month: A Maiden in the Sky

David Baumgartner writes about Virgo.

This article was contributed by David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.

In the past few months we have discussed this imaginary line curving downward from the tail of the Big Dipper to a lonely star named Arcturus in the constellation Bootes.  Now let’s continue that same curve and follow it down to another lonely bright star in the constellation Virgo. It is not quite so bright as Arcturus, and instead of being golden we see a pure white star named Spica. As Arcturus is the chief star of Bootes, Spica is the chief star of Virgo. These two are the only really bright stars in their constellation, the rest are faint and very hard to see.

Virgo is an unmarried woman, known as the Maiden (it is the Latin word from which our English word “Virgin” comes from).  Like so many constellations we’ve talked about it is very hard to make out what the figures portray.  The constellation is large and dim. The girl maiden is twice as large as the lion next to her. Like Leo, Virgo is important because the sun, moon, and planets, pass through it: it is another of the Zodiac constellation, along the ecliptic. Spica is close to the actual ecliptic, though not so close as Regulus in Leo.

Spica means, in Latin, an “ear” of wheat, that is, the seed-head of the wheat plant that we make bread from. I’d like to take credit for knowing that little bit of information, but I had to look it up, in a book of course. The girl, according to one story, is holding this in her hand because she is Proserpine, daughter of Ceres the goddess of the cereals and other plants.

I wonder what you had to accomplish to be awarded that designation?

But there’s more; Pluto the god of death saw Proserpine in the fields and stole her away to the underworld to be his wife. While her mother went wandering sadly in search of her, nothing would grow. At last Pluto had to let Proserpine live in the upper world for half of each year; and this is summer, when Ceres is happy and the crops will grow. Now you just can’t make up stories like this, so it must be true.

Wait, there’s more; in the Bible is the story of Ruth, a poor girl who lived by gleaning in the field of a farmer called Boaz. That is, she followed behind the harvesters picking up the scrapes of wheat they dropped. Boaz fell in love with her, figures, and married her. An astronomer in the seventeenth century wanted us to use Biblical names in the sky instead of pagan ones, so he suggested that Virgo should be named Ruth, and Bootes, standing above her, should be named Boaz. I don’t think that this astronomer’s suggestion was successful with his new idea, for this is the first time I’ve heard of this.

This month’s constellation, Virgo, might be somewhat of a challenge for you to find compared to the last couple of month’s figures; Leo and Bootes. But don’t give up, they are up there. It took me a decade to find Virgo, and I still have a difficult time finding this maiden in the sky.

Clear skies…


May 16: Moon passes 1.5 degrees north of Mars

May 17: Venus passes 6 degrees north of Aldebaran

May 19: First Quarter Moon

May 25: Moon is at perigee (222.023 miles from Earth)

May 26: Full Moon

May 29: Mercury passes 0.4 degrees south of Venus (This is very close. Half the size of the width of your little finger, arm stretched out. Look west minutes after sunset).

May 30: Moon passes 4 degrees south of Saturn




David Baumgartner

I am a local fella. Local schools from Fremont, Sacred Heart, Santa Anita, Hollister High, to San Benito Jr. Collage (Now Gavilan). Then joined the US Air Force where I specialized in Airborne Radar. Married my high school sweetheart JoAnne., shortly after three children arrived; Cindi, Michael, and Lisa. Somehow we ended up with nine Grandchildren.  Went on to San Luis Obispo, Guesta, Collages, and on to Univ. of New Mexico. Came back to Hollister. Opened up Three Pet Stores; Dave's Aquarium Pets & Supplies in SLO, Watsonvile, and Hollister. The family spent two and a half years running a ranch up in Oregon. Made our way back to Hollister.  Got my Real Estate Licence in 1982, opened my own office in 93'. In the mean time raised Swans and revitalized my old hobby of Astronomy.  In 2001 I was named Chamber of Commence Man of the Year. I think I was the only one nominated. I don't care, I'm taking it. Now in December of 2018 I retired. Not sure if I was forced out or not. Non the less, I am retired, at 77 years of age I think it was time. Now the last thing I have to do is buy a coffin. I hear COSCO sells them now. But the only drawback is; you have to buy them in lots of six.  I guess I could buy them for the whole family. Not that funny, but thrifty.