Finding Leo the lion

Finding Leo the lion
  • The constellation looks like a lion similar to the ones in Trafalgar Square in London

Most of the constellations take a lot of imagination to recognise them, but Leo is one of the better ones and does look like a lion, similar to the ones in Trafalgar Square in London.

In Greek mythology Leo was killed by Hercules during his twelve labours and it is one of the earliest constellations to be named. It lies between Cancer to the west and Virgo to the east. Leo contains many bright stars and is easily recognisable. The head and neck of the lion is depicted by a 'reversed question mark' of stars with the bright star Regulus at its base.

To help you find it, the Moon will be very close to Regulus on 10 March. The rest of the body of the lion forms a rectangle of stars with the bright star Denobla at the lion's tail. At the moment, Leo is pointing head up with his tail pointed toward the horizon. Another way to easily find Leo is to locate the Plough. The two end stars of the Plough are called the pointers and can be used to point to the North Star. If you follow the pointers in the opposite direction then they point to Leo.

Regulus is a about 79 light years from Earth and viewed through binoculars it can be seen as a double star with a faint companion star in orbit around it. Through larger telescopes Regulus is actually a multiple star system of at least four stars. Searching around Leo with a telescope reveals a whole family of distant galaxies, two of them visible with binoculars. M95 and M96 are spiral galaxies similar to our own but at about 20 million light years away. M105 is another galaxy very close to M95 and M96 but at 9th magnitude it would need a reasonable-sized telescope to spot it.

In astrology, the 'star signs' are based upon which constellation the Sun resided on the date of birth. These dates were set many hundreds of years ago and since then the Earth has 'wobbled' on its axis. Traditionally a Leo is meant to represent people born between 23 July to 27 August but as of 2002, the Sun has appeared in the constellation Leo from 10 August to 10 September.