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Virgo constellation map.svg
Red circle.svg

Location of Spica (circled)
Observation data
Epoch J2000      Equinox J2000
Constellation Virgo
Pronunciation /ˈspkə/
Right ascension 13h 25m 11.579s[1]
Declination −11° 09′ 40.75″[1]
Apparent magnitude (V) +0.97[2] (0.97 - 1.04[3])
Spectral type B1 III-IV/B2 V[4]
U−B color index −0.94[2]
B−V color index −0.23[2]
Variable type β Cep + Ellipsoidal[3]
Radial velocity (Rv) +1.0[5] km/s
Proper motion (μ) RA: −42.35 ± 0.62[1] mas/yr
Dec.: −30.67 ± 0.37[1] mas/yr
Parallax (π) 13.06 ± 0.70[1] mas
Distance 250 ± 10 ly
(77 ± 4 pc)
Absolute magnitude (MV) −3.55 (−3.5/−1.5)[6]
Period (P) 4.0145898 d
Eccentricity (e) 0.067 ± 0.014
Inclination (i) 54 ± 6°
Periastron epoch (T) 2440678.09
Argument of periastron (ω)
140 ± 10°
Mass 10.25 ± 0.68[7] M
Radius 7.40 ± 0.57[7] R
Luminosity 12,100[8] L
Surface gravity (log g) 3.7 ± 0.1[6] cgs
Temperature 22,400[6] K
Rotational velocity (v sin i) 199 ± 5[7] km/s
Mass 6.97 ± 0.4[7] M
Radius 3.64 ± 0.28[7] R
Luminosity 1,500[8] L
Temperature 18,500[8] K
Rotational velocity (v sin i) 87 ± 6[7] km/s
Other designations
Spica, Azimech, Spica Virginis, Alaraph, Dana, α Virginis, 67 Virginis, HR 5056, BD -10°3672, HD 116658, GCTP 18144, FK5 498, CCDM 13252-1109, SAO 157923, HIP 65474.[9]
Database references

Spica (/ˈspkə/), also designated Alpha Virginis (α Virginis, abbreviated Alpha Vir, α Vir), is the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo and the 16th brightest star in the night sky. Analysis of its parallax shows that it is located 250 ± 10 light years from the Sun.[1] It is a spectroscopic binary and rotating ellipsoidal variable; a system whose two main stars are so close together they are egg-shaped rather than spherical, and can only be separated by their spectra. The primary is a blue giant and a variable star of the Beta Cephei type.

Spica, along with Denebola or Regulus depending on the source and Arcturus, is part of the Spring Triangle asterism, and by extension, also of the Great Diamond together with the star Cor Caroli.

Observation history[edit]

As one of the nearest massive binary star systems to the Sun, Spica has been the subject of many observational studies.[10]

Spica is believed to be the star that gave Hipparchus the data that led him to discover the precession of the equinoxes.[11] A temple to Menat (an early Hathor) at Thebes was oriented with reference to Spica when it was built in 3200 BC, and, over time, precession slowly but noticeably changed Spica's location relative to the temple.[12] Nicolaus Copernicus made many observations of Spica with his home-made triquetrum for his researches on precession.[13][14]


How to locate the star Spica

Spica is 2.05 degrees from the ecliptic and can be occulted by the Moon and sometimes by the planets. The last planetary occultation of Spica occurred when Venus passed in front of the star (as seen from Earth) on November 10, 1783. The next occultation will occur on September 2, 2197, when Venus again passes in front of Spica.[15] The Sun passes a little more than 2° north of Spica around October 16 every year, and the star's heliacal rising occurs about two weeks later. Every 8 years, Venus passes Spica around the time of the star's heliacal rising, as in 2009 when it passed 3.5° north of the star on November 3.[16]

A method of finding Spica is to follow the arc of the handle of the Big Dipper (Plough) to Arcturus, and then continue on the same angular distance to Spica. This can be recalled by the mnemonic phrase, "arc to Arcturus and spike to Spica."


Spica is a close binary star whose components orbit about each other every four days. They stay close enough together that they cannot be resolved as two stars through a telescope. The changes in the orbital motion of this pair results in a Doppler shift in the absorption lines of their respective spectra, making them a double-lined spectroscopic binary.[7] Initially, the orbital parameters for this system were inferred using spectroscopic measurements. Between 1966 and 1970, the Narrabri Stellar Intensity Interferometer was used to observe the pair and to directly measure the orbital characteristics and the angular diameter of the primary, which was found to be (0.90 ± 0.04) × 10−3 arcseconds, and the angular size of the semi-major axis of the orbit was found to be only slightly larger at (1.54 ± 0.05) × 10−3 arcseconds.[6]

The primary star has a stellar classification of B1 III–IV. The luminosity class matches the spectrum of a star that is midway between a subgiant and a giant star, and it is no longer a B-type main-sequence star.[4] This is a massive star with more than 10 times the mass of the Sun and seven times the Sun's radius. The total luminosity of this star is about 12,100 times that of the Sun, and eight times the luminosity of its companion. The primary is one of the nearest stars to the Sun that has enough mass to end its life in a Type II supernova explosion.[8][17]

The primary is classified as a Beta Cephei-type variable star that varies in brightness over a 0.1738-day period. The spectrum shows a radial velocity variation with the same period, indicating that the surface of the star is regularly pulsating outward and then contracting. This star is rotating rapidly, with a rotational velocity of 199 km/s along the equator.[7]

The secondary member of this system is one of the few stars whose spectrum is affected by the Struve–Sahade effect. This is an anomalous change in the strength of the spectral lines over the course of an orbit, where the lines become weaker as the star is moving away from the observer.[10] It may be caused by a strong stellar wind from the primary scattering the light from secondary when it is receding.[18] This star is smaller than the primary, with about 7 times the mass of the Sun and 3.6 times the Sun's radius.[7] Its stellar classification is B2 V, making this a main-sequence star.[4]

Spica is a rotating ellipsoidal variable, which is a non-eclipsing close binary star system where the stars are mutually distorted through their gravitational interaction. This effect causes the apparent magnitude of the star system to vary by 0.03 over an interval that matches the orbital period. This slight dip in magnitude is barely noticeable visually.[19] Both stars rotate faster than their mutual orbital period. This lack of synchronization and the high ellipticity of their orbit may indicate that this is a young star system. Over time, the mutual tidal interaction of the pair may lead to rotational synchronization and orbit circularization.[20]

Spica is an polarimetric variable, which suggests that protostellar material is entrained between the two stars.[21]


α Virginis (Latinised to Alpha Virginis) is the system's Bayer designation.

The traditional name Spica derives from Latin spīca virginis "the virgin's ear of [wheat] grain". It was also anglicized as Virgin's Spike. Johann Bayer cited the name Arista. Other traditional names are Azimech, from Arabic السماك الأعزل al-simāk al-a‘zal 'the Undefended'; Alarph, Arabic for 'the Grape Gatherer', and Sumbalet (Sombalet, Sembalet and variants) from Arabic sunbulah "corn ear".[22] In 2016, the International Astronomical Union organized a Working Group on Star Names (WGSN)[23] to catalog and standardize proper names for stars. The WGSN's first bulletin of July 2016[24] included a table of the first two batches of names approved by the WGSN; which included Spica for this star. It is now so entered in the IAU Catalog of Star Names.[25]

In Chinese astronomy, the star is known as Jiao Xiu 1 (角宿一), i.e. the first star of the Jiao Xiu asterism.

In Hindu astronomy, Spica corresponds to the Nakshatra Chitrā.

In culture[edit]

Both American ships USS Spica (AK-16) and USNS Spica (T-AFS-9) were named after this star while USS Azimech (AK-124), a Crater-class cargo ship, was given one of the star's medieval names.

A blue star represents Spica on the flag of the Brazilian state of Pará. Spica is also the star representing Pará on the Brazilian flag.

A South Korean Girl Group was named after the star.

Spica is a Vocaloid song sung by Hatsune Miku

In a non-canonical chapter in Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World-, Subaru had a daughter with Rem named Spica.

Spica is the pseudonym of Lili in the children's manga series, Zodiac P.I.

In his Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Cornelius Agrippa attributes Spica's kabbalistic symbol Agrippa1531 Spica.png to Hermes Trismegistus.


  1. ^ a b c d e f van Leeuwen, F. (2007). "Validation of the new Hipparcos reduction". Astronomy and Astrophysics. 474 (2): 653–664. Bibcode:2007A&A...474..653V. arXiv:0708.1752Freely accessible. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:20078357.  Vizier catalog entry
  2. ^ a b c Ducati, J. R. (2002). "VizieR Online Data Catalog: Catalogue of Stellar Photometry in Johnson's 11-color system". CDS/ADC Collection of Electronic Catalogues. 2237: 0. Bibcode:2002yCat.2237....0D. 
  3. ^ a b Ruban, E. V.; Alekseeva, G. A.; Arkharov, A. A.; Hagen-Thorn, E. I.; Galkin, V. D.; Nikanorova, I. N.; Novikov, V. V.; Pakhomov, V. P.; Puzakova, T. Yu. (2006). "Spectrophotometric observations of variable stars". Astronomy Letters. 32 (9): 604. Bibcode:2006AstL...32..604R. doi:10.1134/S1063773706090052. 
  4. ^ a b c Schnerr, R. S.; et al. (June 2008). "Magnetic field measurements and wind-line variability of OB-type stars" (PDF). Astronomy and Astrophysics. 483 (3): 857–867. Bibcode:2008A&A...483..857S. arXiv:1008.4260Freely accessible. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:20077740. Retrieved 2010-04-16. 
  5. ^ Wilson, Ralph Elmer (1953). General Catalogue of Stellar Radial Velocities. Washington: Carnegie Institution of Washington. Bibcode:1953GCRV..C......0W. 
  6. ^ a b c d Herbison-Evans, D.; Hanbury Brown, R.; Davis, J.; Allen, L. R. (1971). "A study of alpha Virginis with an intensity interferometer". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 151 (2): 161–176. Bibcode:1971MNRAS.151..161H. doi:10.1093/mnras/151.2.161. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Harrington, David; Koenigsberger, Gloria; Moreno, Edmundo; Kuhn, Jeffrey (October 2009). "Line-profile Variability from Tidal Flows in Alpha Virginis (Spica)". The Astrophysical Journal. 704 (1): 813–830. Bibcode:2009ApJ...704..813H. arXiv:0908.3336Freely accessible. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/704/1/813. 
  8. ^ a b c d Kaler, Jim. "Spica". Stars. Retrieved 2010-04-15. 
  9. ^ "V* alf Vir -- Variable Star of beta Cep type". SIMBAD. Centre de Données astronomiques de Strasbourg. Retrieved 2010-04-13. 
  10. ^ a b Riddle, R. L.; Bagnuolo, W. G.; Gies, D. R. (December 2001). "Spectroscopy of the temporal variations of α Vir". Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society. 33: 1312. Bibcode:2001AAS...199.0613R. 
  11. ^ Evans, James (1998). The History and Practice of Ancient Astronomy. Oxford University Press. p. 259. ISBN 0-19-509539-1. 
  12. ^ Allen, Richard Hinckley (2003). Star Names and Their Meanings. Kessinger Publishing. p. 468. ISBN 0-7661-4028-8. 
  13. ^ Rufus, W. Carl (April 1943). "Copernicus, Polish Astronomer, 1473–1543". Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. 37 (4): 134. Bibcode:1943JRASC..37..129R. 
  14. ^ Moesgaard, Kristian P. (1973). "Copernican influence on Tycho Brahe". In Jerzy Dobrzycki. The reception of Copernicus' heliocentric theory: proceedings of a symposium organized by the Nicolas Copernicus Committee of the International Union of the History and Philosophy of Science. Toruń, Poland: Studia Copernicana, Springer. ISBN 90-277-0311-6. 
  15. ^ Earth-Sky Tonight, March 26, 2010
  16. ^ Breit, Derek C. (March 12, 2010). "Diary of Astronomical Phenomena 2010". Poyntsource.com. Retrieved 2010-04-13. 
  17. ^ Firestone, R. B. (July 2014), "Observation of 23 Supernovae That Exploded <300 pc from Earth during the past 300 kyr", The Astrophysical Journal, 789 (1): 11, Bibcode:2014ApJ...789...29F, doi:10.1088/0004-637X/789/1/29, 29. 
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  19. ^ Morris, S. L. (August 1985). "The ellipsoidal variable stars". Astrophysical Journal, Part 1. 295: 143–152. Bibcode:1985ApJ...295..143M. doi:10.1086/163359. 
  20. ^ Beech, M. (August 1986). "The ellipsoidal variables. III - Circularization and synchronization". Astrophysics and Space Science. 125 (1): 69–75. Bibcode:1986Ap&SS.125...69B. doi:10.1007/BF00643972. 
  21. ^ Cotton, D. V.; et al. (January 2016). "The linear polarization of Southern bright stars measured at the parts-per-million level". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 455 (2): 1607–1628. Bibcode:2016MNRAS.455.1607C. arXiv:1509.07221Freely accessible. doi:10.1093/mnras/stv2185. 
  22. ^ Star Names - Their Lore and Meaning, by Richard Hinckley Allen
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  25. ^ "IAU Catalog of Star Names". Retrieved 28 July 2016. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: Sky map 13h 25m 11.5793s, −11° 09′ 40.759″