LEO THE LION: A FEATURE IN JUNE’S NIGHT SKY
June has arrived quietly and unexpectedly, like a stray cat waiting at our door. For stargazers, there are many great things to see, including Leo. But because of Daylight Savings Time, it doesn’t get really dark until about 10 p.m. One must be especially motivated to wait that long to see the stars. But, believe me, it will be worth the effort. So many stars! On an average dark night, we will be able to see 10,000 stars. What an incredible treat!
Leo the Lion occupies the western sky at this time of year. It sets around midnight. This year there will be bright moonlight until full moon which is June 5. Then the moon begins to wane. I suggest you wait until June 7 to view Leo because the sky will be dark then.
Look to the western sky. Leo has a well-known sickle-shaped string of stars, which represent his head and mane. There is a bright star named Regulus under the sickle, which represents his heart. The tail area is represented by a triangle of stars with a star named Denebola at the far-left.
Leo was recognized as a lion by a number of ancient civilizations, including the Greek, Roman, Sumerian, Babylonian, Persian and Syrian civilizations. A Greek myth proposed that Leo was formed from a meteor that fell from the moon, became a lion and ravaged the area around Corinth until he was killed by Hercules. Now, there is one fantastic myth.
Regulus, the bright star under the sickle, is 85 light years (L.Y.) distant. Its light started on its long journey to Earth in 1935 in the middle of the Great Depression. It has the short-hand designation of B7V, indicating that it is a very hot blue star, approximately 28,000 degrees Fahrenheit at the surface and it is a normal star, not a giant or a dwarf. Its name means “Little King.” As I understand it, some cultures believed that Regulus was able to place any star anywhere it wanted to in the sky.
Denebola, Leo’s tail, is an Arab’s name meaning “The Tail of the Lion.” Its distance is 43 L.Y. from us, only about half the distance of Regulus. Denebola has the astronomical designation of A3V, meaning it is a normal hot blue-white star, with a surface temperature of about 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit. (Our star, the Sun, is about 11,000 degrees Fahrenheit at the surface.)
Moonlight was mentioned earlier. Many amateur astronomers specialize in moon study. If you are interested in that specialty, you must obtain a very exciting book ASTRONOMY ALTAS OF THE MOON by Antonin Runkel, published by Kalmbach Books. When I was a bit younger, I learned the names of 120 craters on the moon and studied the history of all.
Craters are named for astronomers, scientists, authors and philosophers, such as Kepler, Copernicus, and Plato. Runkel gives a history of the person the crater is named after. He also gives a map of the area surrounding the crater. Happy stargazing and moon study!