Leo the Lion


Bounding out of the eastern horizon, the majestic figure of Leo the lion heralds the arrival of spring. Leo can be found easily by using the famous pointer sisters of the Big Dipper and making a line south, the brightest star you find will be Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation. With Regulus you can trace out the rest of the figure by finding the famous sickle shape of the mane. Leo is the home of a sub-cluster of galaxys, variable stars, binary stars and the forth closest star to earth!


REGULUS:  Regulus is the brightest star in the constellation of Leo and is the 21st brightest star in the sky. The name Regulus is the diminutive form of the Latin Rex, or "king". Regulus is also a triple star system, with a star orbiting Regulus and the companion with it's own stellar brother. The second star is easy to find in small telescopes. The third star of the Regulus system orbits around it's larger sibling once about every 2000 years. To find Regulus use the pointers stars from the Big Dipper, instead of making a line north to Polaris, the North star, trace a line south and you will find Regulus. Regulus is almost right on the ecliptic, which means planets and the moon frequent Leo, and Regulus is uncommonly occulted by the moon.


DENEBOLA: At the far end of Leo is the beautiful blue-white star Denebola. Arabic for "The Lions Tail", Denebola appears to have a orange companion through a telescope, this is not related to Denebola, but is actually a optical twin. The smaller star is in actuality very far away from Denebola. Denebola is one of the stars that form the Virgin's Diamond, the other three stars of the diamond are Cor Caroli, Spica, and Arcturus.


THE SICKLE:  The most recognizable formation in Leo is the sickle, formed by, starting from the bottom, Regulus, Ras Elased Australis, Algeiba, Adhafera, Ras Elased Borealis, and Epsilon Leonis. Besides Regulus, Algeiba is the brightest star in the sickle and is a close double, but the separation distance between the two stars is slowly growing. The next star in the mane of the lion is Adhafera, it is another star that has a optical companion. Just to the south of Alterf is a small galaxy named NGC 2903.


ZOZMA, CHORT, AND SUBRA:  Zozma is Greek for "The Girdle", there is a small galaxy to the east and slightly south. Chort is the star to the south of Zozma, and the Leo triplet is located southeast of Chort. Zozma and Chort are located at the backside of Leo, Subra is the front paw.


M65, M66 AND NGC 3628:   These three galaxys are known as the Leo triplet. M65 and M66 are both spiral galaxys, and NGC 3628 is a edge on galaxy. 3628 is a bit fainter than its celestial siblings to the south, but is actually much bigger. M66 is the one seen to the east and 3628 is the northern one


M95, M96, AND M105:  M95 and 96 are another pair of fine spiral galaxys, in fact, all of the galaxys are in Leo are part of a sub-cluster of galaxys. The Leo sub-cluster, as it is known, is related to the neighboring Virgo cluster. To the north of 95 and 96, but not in the same field of view is the fainter galaxy M105. Just to the east are two more galaxys, NGC 3384 and 3389, with M105, these three form a small triangle of galaxys.


IOTA, AND R LEONIS:  Iota is another binary star, it's companion orbits the parent star every 192 years, which is a pretty fast orbit. R leonis is long period variable star, over 312 days it changes from 5th magnitude at the most to 10th mag at the minimum.


WOLF 359:  This star is a very faint red dwarf, and is the third closest star known, not including the sun. Only the Alpha Centauri system and Bernards star in Ophiuchus are closer to our solar system. Wolf 359 is less than 2 times the distance that Alpha Centauri is from earth.


MYTHOLOGY:  Leo is identified as the Neamean Lion, which was born on the moon and came down in a shooting star. When Hercules had to kill him for his first labor, Hercules found out that the lions pelt was impenetrable from all weapons, so he strangled the lion. This lion terrorized the people of Neams until Hercules had to kill it for his first labor. So he used his godly might to choke the lion and used the lions claws to cut it up and make a helmet and cloak. When Hercules died, the gods put the Neamean Lion in the heavens.


Written and illustrated by Nik Aiavaliotis

Published by El Valle Astronomers. Lee Mesibov, President. 505-579-4604.