Utah Skies: Leo’s Sickle And Planets

Apr 15, 2021

Credit Tom Westre

With the vernal equinox comes warmer weather and longer days which draws us to the great outdoors. For night-time sky watchers spring brings many new constellations. From late March through June six major constellations are seen in the spring night sky.

Leo the Lion is prominent in the evening sky about 9 p.m.

Leo  is one of the constellations of the Zodiac. According to Greek mythology Leo was the lion killed by Hercules during his 12 labors. 

Leo is easily identified as a backward question mark or a sickle shape group of six stars that form the head of the lion and his mane. The Lion faces west. An additional three stars form the Lion’s hindquarters. 

Of the naked eye stars of Leo three are of particular interest.

The star Regulus is the brightest star in Leo and forms the bottom portion of the question mark or sickle. Regulus is a double star whose companion can be seen in binoculars. It lies about 80 light years away. 

Algieba lies on the lion’s neck and is also a double star that can be separated in a small telescope. They orbit in a period of 500 years 126 light years away. Astronomers discovered a Jupiter sized planet orbiting the primary star in 2011. The planet is eight times the size of Jupiter. 

Rasalas is located at the top of the sickle of Leo and is located 124 light years away. In 2014 astronomers found a planet orbiting this star. This planet is two times the size of Jupiter's size.

Leo is known to have 22 planets orbiting many of its fainter stars. 

Enjoy your view of Leo knowing that two of its brighter stars easily seen by the naked eye have planetary systems.