Leo the Lion ConstellationJun 17, 2023
Leo the Lion
Leo the Lion is one of the easiest constellations to find in the night sky. Its shape is one of the few constellations that somewhat resembles the object it represents. Leo is a zodiacal constellation, which means that the sun, moon, and planets pass through this constellation.
Leo can be viewed from both hemispheres during April, May, and June. You can see it everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere and up to -65 degrees latitude in the Southern Hemisphere. It also contains the asterism called the Sickle, which makes a crescent shape in the night sky.
There are a couple of ways to find Leo the Lion. First, look for the Sickle asterism in the sky. Leo can also be found by first identifying the constellation of Virgo, which it sits next to. The stars in Leo the Lion are of relatively even magnitude, or brightness.
Leo is classified as an ancient constellation and the earliest records of it date back as far as Ancient Mesopotamia. The Persians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all recognized this star pattern. The name Leo is derived from the Latin word meaning lion.
Finding Leo the Lion
Leo is a zodiacal constellation which means that the sun passes through its boundaries. Zodiacal constellations lie along the ecliptic, which is the path of the Sun, Moon and stars.
One easy way to identify Leo is by using the Sickle asterism, which appears in the sky as a backwards question mark. When finding Leo first try to identify the Sickle asterism, and then try to identify the triangle back end of the lion.
Ursa Major can be used to help point towards Leo the Lion. If you can find the Big Dipper, you can use stars within the Big Dipper and aim you towards Leo the Lion. Use the handle of the Big Dipper to ‘Arc to Arcturus and speed to Spica’ and you'll arrive at Virgo. Leo is sandwiched between Virgo and Cancer in the sky. Remember the saying ‘Arc to Arcturus, Speed to Spica” and then find Leo nearby.
Bright Stars in Leo
In the constellation Leo the Lion, there are two very notable stars. The first is known as the alpha star and goes by the name Regulus, which translates to "Little King" in Latin. Regulus is an intriguing star system because it is not simply a single star, but rather a four-star system, organized into two pairs. The primary star, Regulus A, is a blue-white main sequence star, accompanied by its companion, Regulus B, a dim main sequence star. The second pair of stars are two dim red dwarfs stars that are orbiting each other. Together, they create the brilliance we observe as Regulus, located approximately 77 light-years away from Earth.
Denebola is classified as the beta star, ranking as the second brightest within the entire star pattern of Leo. Its name comes from Latin, meaning "Lion's tail." Denebola is classified as a blue main sequence star. It outweighs our Sun with 75 percent more mass and emits a luminosity of 12 times greater than that of our home star. Denebola lies at an estimated distance of 36 light-years away.
Celestial Objects in Leo
Leo the lion contains many celestial objects, including galaxies. Famous galaxies within Leo the Lion include:
- Messier 95, a barred spiral galaxy that is located 35 million light years away.
- Messier 105, an elliptical galaxy that is located 35 million light years away.
- NGC 3628, an unbarred spiral galaxy that is located 35 million light years away.
- Messier 65, a spiral galaxy that is located 35 million light years away.
- Messier 66/NGC 3368, a barred spiral galaxy that is located 36 million light years away
It is often the stories of the stars that we can connect to in some way, which can help us remember constellation patterns and their meanings. It is important to acknowledge that there are a variety of star patterns depending upon the culture and timeframe at which we view the stars. Many constellations are named after figures in classical Greek Mythology, however, these stories are predated by the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Mesopotamians. It is safe to say that there are lots of tales about the constellations, so there is no one true and correct mythology.
The most ancient evidence of Leo comes from the Babylonian star catalogs, and this was a catalog of 71 stars and constellations that were the predecessors of the zodiacal constellations. Many of the constellations of the zodiac that we know today were recorded in the Babylonian star catalogs, even representing some of the same things they do now. This star catalog also had a path of the moon and planets, a solar calendar, and much more information about the patterns and movement of the stars.
The Egyptians also recognized Leo the Lion, and there are multiple legends that surround this constellation. One legend states that lions came to the Nile River during the summer months to cool off, and the summer is when the sun, our star, passes through Leo.
Many people are familiar with the tales from Greek mythology about Heracles. Heracles had to battle what was known as the Nemean Lion as one of his Twelve Labors. The Nemean Lion was a mythological creature that fell from the sky and then morphed into a lion. It began to ravage the countryside and Heracles had to slay the beast using his hands .