Leo the Lion roaring in southern skies

Last week, I wrote about the distinct curve of stars forming the tail of a supernatural scorpion. This week, I’d like to encourage you to explore another prominent stellar arc. I’m talking about a group of stars that defines the head of Leo the Lion. According to Greek legend, Leo terrorised the town of Nemea. He was dispatched to the heavens after being slain by Hercules. In the southern hemisphere, Leo always appears upside down.

On Thursday, the moon is close to Eta Leonis. This star connects the handle to the blade of what some ancient astronomers thought to be a celestial sickle. Eta is dim because it is a very long way away from us. The star is roughly 1300 light-years away.

Above Eta is blue-white Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation. Sometimes known as Cor Leonis, or "the heart of the lion", Regulus is estimated to be just under 80 light years away.

Below Eta, the star Algieba is said to mark Leo’s mane. If you have a telescope, point it towards this star. It is actually not one star but two. Astronomers regard it as one of the finest double stars in the heavens.

The second brightest star in Leo isn’t part of the sickle. Denebola is part of a distinct triangle of stars below and to the right of Regulus. Denebola abbreviates from the Arabic Al Dhanab al Asad, which means "Lion’s tail".

 - Ian Griffin

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