History of the Constellations

Stars and Constellations

Leo

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Contents of this page: | Description | Skylore | Modern Culture | Origin and History | Asterisms | Special Stars | Galaxies | Submit new info... |

Images (at bottom of page): | Leo Chart: (Figure 1) | Hyginus, 1482, page E4r: (Figure 2) | Hyginus, 1485, page E3r: (Figure 3) | Hyginus, 1517, page G3v: (Figure 4) | Ptolemy, 1541-const, page Leo: (Figure 5) | Bayer, 1661, page 0fp: (Figure 6) | Bayer, 1661, page zBb: (Figure 7) | Bayer, 1697, page I1v: (Figure 8) | Bayer, 1697, page I2r: (Figure 9) | Bayer, 1697, page I2v: (Figure 10) | Bode, 1801, page l: (Figure 11) | Bode, 1801, page r: (Figure 12) | Bode, 1801, page l: (Figure 13) | Bode, 1801, page r: (Figure 14) | Aspin, 1825, page Leo: (Figure 15) | Images digitized by Hannah Magruder.

Constellation Data

Description

East of the Gemini twins lies Leo the Lion. Find the bowl of the Big Dipper. From the two stars on the handle-side, trace a line back to Leo and its bright star Regulus.

Regulus, the star of kings, is the point beneath a backward question mark. This backward question mark, or sickle, represents Leo’s mane.

His flank is a triangle of stars farther east.

In mid-November every year, a shower of meteors originates from the sickle area of Leo. Meteors have nothing to do with meteorites. Meteorites are rocks that land from space. Meteors or "shooting stars" are the flaming trails of dust and debris left in the wake of a comet, burning up as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere. The Leonid meteor shower, November 17, is due to dust thrown off from the parent comet, Tempel-Tuttle. Great meteor storms were associated with the Leonid meteor shower in 902 AD, "the year of the stars," and in 1833.

One of the Ten Commandments of astronomers is never to build up false expectations for a meteor shower. Will the Leonid meteor shower put on a dramatic show this year? No. Most of the night nothing will happen, except your fingers and toes may grow cold. If the sky is clear, you may see 8 to 10 meteors per hour. If you are lucky, they may appear green or blue as well as white, and leave long-enduring trails.

Yet the Leonids were dazzling in 1833. Astronomer Agnes Clerke described that shower as follows: On the night of November 12-13, 1833, a tempest of falling stars broke over the Earth.... The sky was scored in every direction with shining tracks and illuminated with majestic fireballs. At Boston, the frequency of meteors was estimated to be about half that of flakes of snow in an average snowstorm. Their numbers... were quite beyond counting....

Some of the meteors were said to be as bright as streaking full moons. The sudden and awful display prompted fervent prayers of repentance in the belief that the day of judgment was at hand.

A line running through the two stars of the bowl of the Big Dipper on the side nearest the handle points almost directly to two other notable stars. Follow them below the bowl of the Dipper to Regulus, the heart of Leo the Lion.

Leo’s mane looks like a backward question mark. Regulus, the "dot" at the bottom of the mark, lies nearly on the ecliptic.

Skylore and Literature

Leo is perhaps as ancient a constellation as Taurus the Bull, and was associated with kings of Mesopotamian city states in the third millenium B.C. Regulus obtained much of its significance as a prominent marker of the yearly path of the Sun, lying almost on the ecliptic. The Sun now passes through Leo in late August.

The thick, tough skin of the fiercest lion in the world became the trademark of Hercules after the hero strangled the lion to complete his first test.

Modern Culture

Origin and History

Leo is included in the ancient star catalogs of Eudoxos of Knidos, Aratos of Soli, and Ptolemy.

Asterisms

The "Sickle," or backward question mark, forms the head and mane of the lion. Regulus is the bottom-dot of the question mark.

Special Stars

Regulus in Latin means royalty (little king), and is the brightest star in Leo, the king of the zodiacal animals. Prior to Copernicus, who gave it its name, it was called Cor Leonis, the heart of the Lion. Regulus is a bluish-white star approximately 85 light years away.

Galaxies

M65 (Spiral galaxy), mag. 9.4.

M66 (Spiral galaxy), mag. 9.0.

M95 (Spiral galaxy), mag. 9.8.

M96 (Spiral galaxy), mag. 9.3.

M105 (Elliptical galaxy), mag. 9.7.

Submit new info...

Many excellent websites provide a variety of information about constellations for amateur astronomers and telescope users (see sidebar links for a few of these). These constellation pages are not intended to duplicate those efforts, but are devoted to two aims: First, they are intended to assist the beginning skywatcher, including students in history of science survey courses, in becoming familiar with Basic Celestial Phenomena (BCP). Second, these pages are devoted to the history of the constellations and the history of astronomy. They are intended to serve as a repository for collaborative use and reference. Do you have additional historical information about the stars or constellation described on this page? Please submit additional information to kmagruder@ou.edu. Submissions will be attributed. Editors for historical information are Kerry Magruder, JoAnn Palmeri, Peter Barker, and Laura Gibbs.

Oklahoma History of Science exhibits: http://hos.ou.edu/exhibits/. Page revised 4/15/04

Bad links, misplaced images, or questions? Contact Kerry Magruder. Thank you.

"If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown. But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile." R. W. Emerson, Nature

Images

Figure 1 Figure 1 - Return to Text

Leo Chart
Figure 2 Figure 2 - Return to Text

Hyginus, 1482

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Hyginus, 1485

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Hyginus, 1517

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Ptolemy, 1541-const

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Bayer, 1661

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Bayer, 1661

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Bayer, 1697

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Bayer, 1697

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Bayer, 1697

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Bode, 1801

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Bode, 1801

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Bode, 1801

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Bode, 1801

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Aspin, 1825

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Exhibit credit: Kerry Magruder.

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These teaching resources provided by the History of Science Department at the University of Oklahoma.

Unless otherwise indicated, all images courtesy History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries. Image Terms of Use.

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