This article was contributed by resident David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.
Many times you look up at a constellation and try to make out what were the Greeks, or whoever named the constellations, thinking of? Most of the time they have a theme or story to tell and make the best out of what’s up there to match their story. I like to think that if I were the first to see the Big Dipper with the opportunity to give this group of stars a name, it wouldn’t be a bear. For whoever saw a bear with a long tail? And that goes for the Little Dipper as well. The English didn’t do much better calling it the ”Plough.” Now comes “Leo the Lion,” one of the easiest to pick out in the sky, because it really looks like a lion—or at least you can easily imagine it that way.
The bright star, Regulus, is the lion’s heart. Above it is a C-shaped curve of stars; his mane and head. He is facing to the right. To the left of the head you come to a large triangle of fairly bight stars; they represent the end of his back and his tail. The tail star is the second brightest in the constellation after Regulus, and has a name, Denebola. Yeah, that would have been my choice of names.
Leo is another constellation of the zodiac: that is, the ecliptic passes through it. Regulus is very close to the ecliptic, so the moon and planets pass near it and sometimes even in front of it.
But if you have a telescope, the most interesting star in Leo is the second one above Regulus, where the lion’s back joins onto his mane. This star, called Algieba, is actually a double star. Instead of a planet going around a star, a star is going around another star. Each of the stars could still have planets revolving around them. Now wouldn’t that look strange seeing two or more suns in our sky? I’m certain we wouldn’t have many dark nights. Over 50% of the stars are multiple stars. Our Sun, thankfully, is not one of them.
Give the “King of the Jungle” a look-see some evening, and if you have a six inch or larger telescope you can see a barrage of galaxies in the area, very interesting to see.
What’s up tonight?
April 17: Moon passes 0.1° south of Mars
April 20: First Quarter Moon
April 22: Lyrid meteor shower peaks
April 26: Full Moon
April 27: Moon is at perigee (222,064 miles from Earth)