Monday, February 25, 2013

The Constellation Leo

This post is the one of a series on constellations and posted throughout the year as each constellation comes into prominence.
Leo is one of my favorite constellations. It was one of the first after I fell in love with astronomy in 2008. It was the first one that I had never noticed before, but set out to find and add to my repertoire.

Leo is a lion, and one of the constellations that I feel actually looks like its supposed to:
Leo the Lion
Image by Backyard Stargazing
It reminds me of the sphinx:

What helped me to identify Leo was to find the sickle -- the curve of six or seven stars which I call the "backwards question mark".  The dot of this question mark is the brighest star in Leo, called Regulus, or Reggie for short. At #15, he is one of the brightest stars in the northern hemisphere. He lies almost exactly on the eclipitic.

Lying along the ecliptic, Leo is therefore a zodiacal constellation. This means the sun, moon, and the planets periodically pass through Leo. When I was first learning about it, in 2008, Saturn was moving around under Leo, though now it has moved on and is located in the relatively blank section of sky in Virgo and Lyra.

The sun passes through Leo from mid-August to mid-September, which makes Leo a nice constellation to look for in late winter and spring. I find it by locating the Big Dipper, and pretending it is dripping things. If it drips things down thru the cup, those drops would fall on Leo's head:
The Big Dripper and Leo

Below is a more specific map of Leo.  With a telescope, Leo houses a few good Messier objects worth looking for, but none are good sights for binoculars.
Image from Wikipedia

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