Leo the Lion 5-6/06
Leo the Lion 5-6/06
The seasons march on: Spring is old by now and by mid-June it will be summer. Are your flowers up? Are you fully into watering? June 21st is the Summer Solstice, closest moment to the longest day and shortest night of the year. Yet summer continues to get warmer….. mmmm……
As promised last time let’s start with Leo the lion this month. Leo will be overhead in the night sky as you read this. Notice its relationship to the Big Dipper in the north. They are parallel to each other and quite similar in size. The Big Dipper is only part of the full constellation Ursa Major, which is actually a bear. When you include the bear’s feet, head and unusually long tail, the constellation is huge. The “pointers,” the two stars at the end of the dipper opposite the handle, point to the north star. Follow them in the opposite direction and they point to Leo.Leo’s brightest star is called Regulus. it’s the lion’s heart. Regulus is the bottom of what looks like a backwards question mark. This group of stars is called the sickle and forms the lion’s mane and head. Behind or to left of the sickle is a triangle making up the haunches and tail. Leo sits with noble head erect, very regal and king like, with his front paws stretched out in front of him. Above Leo towards the Big Dipper and between them is Leo Minor, a small trapizoid-shaped constellation with a tail pointing west. Looking at Leo there are two faint constellations, hard to see but very rewarding to discover. They are on each side of Leo. Behind Leo, to his left and east, is Coma Berenices, a fuzzy little clump of stars that used to be the end of the lion’s tail and I think still should be! The tale I heard about Leo’s tail is that an ancient king’s astronomer screwed up one of his predictions and to save face renamed that tail’s end Bernice’s hair [coma Berenices] after the beautiful hair of the king’s wife. It is beautiful so get out your binoculars for this and the next treat: Cancer the crab. Cancer has inside its boundaries a group of stars called the bee hive cluster [you’ll see why]. The cluster is in front and to the right of Leo. It is also faint and hard to find at first. Both Coma and Cancer are wonderful fuzzy spots. When you find them with your optical aid, they will amaze you at the sheer number of stars that make up each of these fuzzy spots and how exquisite they are to look at. I especially appreciate that you can find them with your eyes alone and they are rewarding that way too. Moving further west you’ll find the Gemini twins stars Caster and Pollox. The two stars are the heads of the Gemini twins. Below each of them are stars going towards Orion that make up the rest of the twins’ bodies standing side by side. Our old friend Orion is standing on the western horizon line with the bright stars Sirius and Aldebaran on either side of him.