Inside Leo the Lion
Catch the bright stars of Leo — and visiting Saturn — from midnorthern latitudes in March and April by looking southeast and two-thirds of the way up the sky after dark.
We're now more than a week into the spring season (even if, meteorologically, in some parts of the country it's still very much wintry), and high in our current evening sky the most famous stars of spring are to be found making up the constellation of Leo, the Lion.
The most noteworthy star of this distinctive pattern is the
bluish-white Regulus. According to Richard Hinckley
Allen (1838-1908), an expert in stellar nomenclature, this star was known in
As the brightest star in Leo, first magnitude Regulus has been almost universally associated in ancient
cultures with the concept of royalty and kingly power. This star lies in the
handle of the so-called "Sickle of Leo," a star pattern resembling a
large reversed question mark. Regulus is 77 light
years distant; meaning that the light you see emanating from it tonight started
on its journey toward Earth back in 1931, when Herbert Hoover was U.S.
Algeiba ("the Lion's Mane") is in the curve or the blade of the Sickle, and appears as a single star to the naked eye. However, as a telescope of only moderate size will clearly show, it is really one of the most beautiful double stars in the sky. It should really be observed in twilight or bright moonlight to reveal the contrasting colors ? one star has been said to be greenish, the other a delicate yellow. Others, however, have described different hues such as pale yellow and orange; reddish and golden yellow and even pale red and white!
The Sickle, when rising and climbing the sky, as it is doing now, is seen cutting upward. This year, there is also planetary interloper nearby in yellowish-white Saturn. Located to the left (east) of Regulus and shining more than twice as bright, Saturn is always a show stopper with its spectacular ring system, visible even in a small telescope.
Eastward from the Sickle there is a right triangle of stars
that also belong to Leo. At the eastern point of this triangle you will find Denebola ("The Lion's Tail"). To modern sky
watchers the Sickle outlines the majestic head and mane of a great
westward-facing lion, with the triangle forming the lion's forequarters. He is
crouching in the regal pose somewhat resembling the enigmatic Sphinx.
Astronomer Henry Neely (1879-1963), for many years a popular lecturer at
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