Moon and Spica

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Moon and Spica

Virgo is a popular location for exoplanets, including the first ones ever confirmed. There’s no special reason for it, except perhaps for the size of the constellation — it’s the largest member of the zodiac.

Virgo is easy to find in the wee hours of tomorrow because the Moon passes near Spica, its brightest star.

As far as we know, Spica doesn’t have planets of its own. And if it does, they’re doomed, because the system’s main star will explode as a supernova in a few million years.

There’s no reason an exploded star couldn’t acquire planets after its demise, though. In fact, that may be the case for the first exoplanets ever discovered. They orbit a pulsar — the ultra-dense corpse of a supernova.

The system is near Virgo’s northern border, far from Spica. The pulsar may have formed from the merger of two other stellar corpses, known as white dwarfs. The collision splashed debris into space. Some of that debris may have coalesced to form a system of at least three planets. The first two were discovered in 1992.

Virgo also hosts lots of planets around stars that are still in the prime of life. That includes the star 70 Virginis. Its planet was one of two announced in early 1996, a few months after the discovery of the first such planet. The planet is more massive than Jupiter, the giant of our own solar system. And it’s quite close to the star, so it’s classified as a “hot Jupiter” — one of the many worlds in the constellation Virgo.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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