Lore of the Constellations: Leo

In this special video series, Jay Lamm, Planetarium Producer and Technical Manager at the Irene W. Pennington Planetarium in the Louisiana Art & Science Museum, will take you on a historical stroll through how some of the most notable Spring constellations got their names.  After all, have you ever wondered what “Boötes” meant or why we honor “Virgo” with a special group of stars?  There will be four videos for four notable constellations.  The first involves the easy to find Leo, the Lion. 

Around the 8’clock hour, you can find Leo in your Spring sky.

In fact, this picture was taken right outside my house using long exposure photography.

But you don’t need a special camera to view Leo as the backward question mark or sickle shape forming the head of the lion is very easy to find.

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Still having a hard time locating Leo?

Here is Leo outlined.

Again, this is right outside my house and almost directly overhead.   You can see how large a constellation Leo really is.  Of all the 88 constellations, Leo is the 12th largest and one of the easiest to recognize.

It’s hard to miss with its sickle of stars forming the front part of its distinctive sphinx-like figure.

Leo also contains the 22nd brightest star in the entire night sky, Regulus, a blue-white star located some 7 light-years away from Earth.  This means, as you look at Regulus, you’re seeing it as it appeared 77 years ago because the light hitting your eye when you look at it has been traveling to you for 77 years.

But how did Leo get its name; why do we honor this collection of stars with a lion?

People of all countries, eras, and stages of civilization have developed myths that explain the existence and workings of natural phenomena, recount the deeds of gods or heroes, or seek to justify social or political institutions.  As it turns out, the Greeks were unrivaled with their myths and legends.  In fact, many of the constellations are named after these old Greek myths.

Leo, the lion, is one of them.

According to legend, Leo represents the Nemean Lion.

Hercules, the greatest of the Greek heroes, was tasked with twelve labors, taking twelve years to accomplish.  The first of these labors was to kill the Nemean Lion.

This fearsome lion had been preying on people around the hills of Nemea in ancient Greece.  Hercules could not kill the lion with arrows because its skin was impenetrable.  So, Hercules trapped the lion in its cave, stunned it with his olive branch club, and squeezed it to death.

Hercules then used one of its claws to skin the animal and thereafter wore its pelt as an impenetrable mantle to make him even more fearsome.

Within the constellation Leo, and if you have a telescope, you can find a number of impressive deep-sky objects.  For example, you can find M65 and M66, two intermediate spiral galaxies.  You can also find M95, a barred spiral galaxy.

Did you know, you could also find 18 known planets in Leo?

Leo has 15 stars with 18 known planets between them, although none of the stars in Leo have planets in the habitable zone.

So, go out some clear dark night and look up to find the backward question mark or fishhook in the sky.  Once you’ve found that, you’ve found the constellation Leo, the lion.

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