Leo - Constellation of the Month
The zodiacal sign of Leo can be found along the ecliptic (the path of the Sun and Moon across the sky) and is sandwiched between the neighbouring Cancer and Virgo. The easiest way to find Leo is to check for the 'sickle-shaped' asterism that represents the celestial lions head and mane. Don't forget that the lion is upside down when viewed from the Southern Hemisphere!
Image Adapted from Stellarium
Leo is one of the oldest constellations in the sky with evidence that the Mesopotamians also saw a celestial lion in this area of sky over 6000 years ago.
The most popular mythology of Leo refers to the Nemean Lion slain by Hercules in his first of 12 labours. The labours were set by King Eurystheus in order to help Hercules to atone for sins in his early life.
The Nemean lion was a fearsome animal with a hide that no weapon could penetrate. Hercules however was able to strangle the beast with his bare hands and then skinned the lion with its own claws. Hercules then wore the pelt as armour during the rest of this labours.
The brightest star in Leo is Regulus and marks the lion's chest. The name is derived from the Latin meaning 'Little King'. The Arabic name for the star poignantly translates to 'Heart of the Lion'. Regulus is actually a 4 star system and their combined light makes it the 22nd brightest star in night sky.
Denebola represents the lion's rear quarters and its name originally comes from the Arabic meaning 'The Lion's Tail.
During the month of November, the Leonid Meteor Shower can be seen, averaging around 15 meteors an hour. The shower is caused by the Earth passing through the debris trail of Comet Tempel-Tuttle. When the debris hits our atmosphere, the tiny particles heat up due to friction, giving off energy visible from Earth as a shooting star.
However, every 33 years or so, the number of shooting stars is greatly increased, with potentially thousands of meteors impacting Earth’s atmosphere. Records suggest that in 1833, the Leonids produced as many as 100,000 meteors an hour!
DEEP SKY OBJECTS
Leo does not have any deep sky objects within reach of binoculars, but a telescope can easily locate the 'Leo Triplet'; a collection of 3 relatively bright galaxies. M65, M66 and NGC 3628 (also known as the Hamburger Galaxy on account of its shape) are all gravitationally bound together and their average distance from Earth is an impressive 30 million light years away!
Image Credit: NASA / INAF-VSAT / OmegaCAM