Leo the Lion is a zodiac constellation that looks as much like what it is supposed to be as any star grouping named by the ancients. This doesn't mean that it is the most apparent object in the night sky, but once you find where it is you will definitely see a lion without using too much imagination. One of the easiest to visualise asterisms, or stars that form a familiar shape, lies within Leo, as well as a couple of bright stars that have names.
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Look for Leo in the springtime. This constellation heralds the beginning of warmer weather in the Northern Hemisphere. When it is about 10 p.m., the entire constellation should be over the horizon in the east and visible.
Use the Big Dipper to guide you to Leo. The Big Dipper is part of the constellation Ursa Major and is always in the direction of north. Find the Dipper with its seven stars that seem to form a giant ladle. The two stars that form the end of the "bowl" are called the pointers. Follow them up and you come to the North Star Polaris. Follow them down and you come to Leo the Lion. Leo is between Cancer the Crab and Virgo the Maiden in the zodiac.
Search for the Sickle. The Sickle is an asterism within Leo that forms the lion's head and mane. It is a backwards question mark in the sky made up of enough bright stars to be easily recognisable. The Sickle is dotted underneath by the first magnitude star Regulus. The name means "little king" and it is actually a double star system that can be seen with your binoculars.
Look behind him for the tail. The back half of Leo is composed of a triangle of stars that form his haunches. The brightest star of this trio is Denebola, which means "tail of the lion." Denebola is Leo's second most brilliant star as seen from earth, 36 light years away. It is 10 times brighter than the sun.
Be ready for the Leonid meteor storm in the fall. This sometimes wildly spectacular meteor shower seems to radiate from Leo. It reaches its peak on November 17 and in the past has literally made people think the world was coming to an end, as there were hundreds of meteors a minute. The Leonids have rarely lived up to those shows since, but are still worth seeing late at night in the autumn.
Tips and warnings
- Leo represents the mythical Nemean Lion that Hercules killed with his bare hands for the first of his 12 labours. In astrology it is associated with the month of August.