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Leo the Lion - Stars, Symbols and Myths

Updated on August 15, 2016
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Cynthia is a writer, artist, and teacher. She loves studying language, arts and culture and sharing that knowledge.

The symbol for Leo the Lion
The symbol for Leo the Lion | Source

Leo the Lion

The constellation Leo lies between Cancer and Virgo in the sky. It’s a constellation of the zodiac.

Twelve constellations comprise the zodiac: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Leo, Cancer, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Capricorn, Sagittarius, Aquarius and Pisces. All these constellations follow the ecliptic, an imaginary line that the sun follows throughout the year.

If you’re looking at the sky, Leo is 9° east of Cancer and 12° northeast of the constellation Hydra.

The constellations often have a number of stories and legends attached to them. Leo is no different.

Curiously, Leo is one of the most ancient of recognized constellations. Ancient peoples associated it with the sun. From the ancient Babylonians to the Egyptians, Leo is has always been one of the signs in the zodiac.


The History of the Constellation

As long as four thousand years ago, the Babylonians measured the longitude of the brightest star in Leo: Regulus.

Then, two thousand years later, Hipparchus did the same. His observations of Regulus coupled with the star Spica helped him endeavor to discover the orbital path of the equinoxes relative to earth, called precession of the equinoxes.

Copernicus named the star Regulus. Its name stands for little king. It had other names as well: King, The Mighty, and The Hero among others.

According to the early Persians, Regulus was one of four guardian stars. The others were Formalhaut, Aldebran and Antares.

In mythological history, Hercules killed the Nemaean Lion named Leo. Interestingly, Leo Minor and the Sextans – constellations adjacent to Leo – have no known mythological connections.

My rendition of the constellation Leo.
My rendition of the constellation Leo. | Source

Leo in the Night Sky

When you look at this constellation, you’ll notice is has a hook pattern that looks like a backwards question mark, called the sickle. This formation of stars makes up Leo’s head. The star Regulus sits at the bottom, with five other main stars – η Leonis, Algeiba, Aldhafera, Rasalas and Asad Australis –making up the rest of the sickle. With the exception of η Leonis, these are the Latin names of the stars. See the chart for the Greek names, which are more commonly used in the scientific community.

Leo is near the constellation Ursa Major, located just south of it in the sky.

Leo’s body extends out from the sickle. The star Denebola makes up the back, with two other stars – Zosma and Chort – forming a triangle.

The Stars in the Constellation Leo

Star - Greek Name
Latin Name
Magnitude (brightness, "0" = brightest)
α Leonis
Regulus
1.3
β Leonis
Denebola
2
γ Leonis
Algieba
2.3, 3.5 (double star)
δ Leonis
Zosma
3
ε Leonis
Asad Australis
3
ζ Leonis
Aldhafera
4
θ Leonis
Chort
3
λ Leonis
Alterf
4
μ Leonis
Rasalas
4
R Leonis
 
5-11, variable star

Can you locate the constellation Leo in the sky?

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Regulus

This star forms the bottom part of the sickle. This star is interesting in that it lies on the ecliptic. Thus, once yearly, the sun eclipses Regulus, on August 23.

This star is 71 light years away, and is getting farther away, at a rate of 1.5 miles per second. It’s about 130 times brighter than the Sun and shines as a white to blue-white star. Its magnitude is 1.3, meaning it’s pretty bright. Despite the high magnitude, it’s still only the 19th brightest out of the 20 brightest stars in the sky.

You can see Regulus in the sky about 8 months out of the year if you live in the northern hemisphere. Starting January 1st, you can see it in the northeastern sky at about 9pm. It gets to its highest point in the sky in early spring. By April 8th, it’s high in the northern sky at 9pm.

Regulus also has a companion star, but it’s a lot dimmer, at the 8th magnitude (level of brightness).

Denebola

Making up the back part of Leo, the star Denebola is most prominent, making up the tail. It’s almost as bright as Regulus, though not quite. It has a magnitude of 2. Ancient peoples calculated its magnitude in the “1” range, but otherwise its brightness has not changed much over the millenia.

Looking at the sky, Denebola is 25° east of Regulus. It’s 16 times brighter than the sun, 39 light years away, and moving away from us at 1 mile per second.

Denebola is also named β Leonis. Together with δ Leonis and θ Leonis, they make up a triangle shape at the back of Leo, as mentioned above.

My rendition of Leo and nearby galaxies.
My rendition of Leo and nearby galaxies. | Source
One of the most famous images of the Leonids meteor shower.  This public domain engraving was completed in 1889.
One of the most famous images of the Leonids meteor shower. This public domain engraving was completed in 1889. | Source

Stars in Leo

λ Leonis is a double star, just southwest of the sickle. It’s actually approaching us at 24 miles per second.

It’s a beautiful double star, and one that it does well to observe it at moonlight or just before dark. You’ll be able to see the brilliant yellow-orange and green colors of the two stars. The yellow-orange star is brighter than the other with a magnitude of 2.2 and 3.5 respectively.

It’s difficult to see these double stars with the naked eye, but a small telescope should be sufficient to see them. Their revolution isn’t that fast. It takes them just under 100 years to complete one revolution.

Another interesting star is R Leonis. It lies southwest of Regulus, just under the ecliptic. It’s what’s known as a variable star. Its brightness changes, ranging from a magnitude of 5 (at its brightest) to 11 (pretty dim) every 313 days. When R Leonis is at magnitude 5, it looks red and is visible with the naked eye.

Galaxies and Leonids Meteor Showers

Just west of Leo’s “body” lie 5 galaxies. Most notable are M65 and M66. They are 29 million light years away. You can’t see them with the naked eye, but with binoculars, you can just make them out.

In November, you can see the Leonids meteor shower. These meteors emanate from Leo’s head and culminate every November 14th or 15th.

Indeed, this is an interesting constellation, with an ancient history and many interesting objects in the sky.

References

Field Book of the Skies. Olcott, William. Van Rees Press: New York. 1974.

Guide to Stars and Planets. Moore, Sir Patrick. Firefly Books: New York. 2005

Seasonal Star Charts. Hubbard Scientific Company, 1972.

The Handy Space Answer Book. Dupuis, Diane and Phillis Engelbert. Visible Ink Press: Canton, MI. 1998.


© 2012 Cynthia Sageleaf

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    • zaton profile image

      Zaton-Taran 2 months ago from California

      The lion is my favorite animal, and Leo is - understandably lol - my favorite Zodiac sign. Even though I'm a Taurus. http://pinstor.us/articles/african-lion-facts-the-...

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Carol - yeah, with this one, I focused on the mythology - why did Leo get his name? Thanks so much for stopping by and for your feedback. :)

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      This is very interesting to me. I used to be an Astrologer and I didn't know this. Well explained and easy to read.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Tillsontitan - hehe, I'm definitely enjoying writing these. The historical facts are just too fun! Thanks for coming by - I appreciate your feedback. Hubhugs!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      Another great hub on a constellation! You are really educating us with your beautiful writing and information packed hubs. This is great and entertaining too. Loved it.

      Voted up, awesome, and beautiful.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Hey thanks, Alocsin! :) The symbols were arbitrarily drawn by the ancients, but the fact that they've pretty much held over time is remarkable. Scientists have shifted a few of them around and re-named just a couple, but Leo is one of the oldest, with some of the oldest stories associated with it. :)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Aviannovice - you know, I DO have a telescope, but it's at my mom's house. :'( See, it was a present a long time ago when I got interested in astronomy and then it's too big for my little car, so I haven't been able to bring it from CO to NC. *sigh* One of these days, I'll get a bigger car and bring it home. :)

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Not my sign, but a wonderful treatise on the constellation. I imagine the symbol is derived from the shape of the constellation itself? Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      So well done. Do you have a good telescope to see all of these wonderful constellations and stars?

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      John Sarkis - hey there! Yeah, it's fun to know the history and just to understand what we're looking at in the sky. :) Thanks so much for coming by. Cheers! Thanks to Tammy, too, for sharing. :D

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      ChristinS - that's awesome! Two Leos in the family. Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope the weather is clear to watch the Leonids, too. :) Cheers!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Tammy - the meteor shower is coming up! :D I am going to make a point of getting out of town and going to observe them...hmmm...maybe Max Patch. :D Great to see you. I hope you have a wonderful day!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Teaches - so fun! Thank you for stopping by. :) I'm definitely having lots of fun researching these. :)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      ishwaryaa22 - thanks so much! I'm really glad you liked this. It's great to get feedback that lets me know I've helped someone get engaged and understand a hub. Yes! Thanks so much for stopping by. :) Hubhugs!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Julie - hehe, I know I'm "hooked" on this theme, LOL. :D Thanks for stoppin' by! Did you get to 10,000?

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Cyndi, this is a great hub. Additionally, a person doesn't have to believe in astrology in order to appreciate it, which makes it all the more awesome.

      Take care

      John

      PS. Thanks for sharing Tammy!

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 5 years ago from Midwest

      A very thorough and detailed hub. I love watching the leonids in November when the weather cooperates. Both of my sons are Leo's also so I of course had to check out this hub :). Great job voted up, awesome and interesting.

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Very interesting. I would love to see a Leondis meteor shower. I never heard of those before.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Next time we have a clear night, I am going to have to look up for this constellation. Enjoyed the history lesson and the many name meanings on this.

    • ishwaryaa22 profile image

      Ishwaryaa Dhandapani 5 years ago from Chennai, India

      You possessed a great amount of knowledge concerning astronomy! I learnt a lot from this engaging hub. Your renditions pictures and your explainations all are clear and detailed. This informative hub based on this constellation is related to my zodiac sign. Well-done!

      Thanks for SHARING. Useful & Interesting. Voted up

    • Julie DeNeen profile image

      Blurter of Indiscretions 5 years ago from Clinton CT

      This was so interesting. So much I never knew. Voted up!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      KDuBarry03 - I haven't been much into mythology myself, but there is something compelling about these constellations. Perhaps it's the idea that we're looking into the past, at the same sky as our ancestors, but whose stories have withstood the test of time. In the words of Spock: "fascinating." :)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Josh - thanks for stopping by. :) I definitely am having fun with these and I'm trying to keep it interesting. LOL Cheers!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Patty - thank you so much! I've really gotten into the mythology and history of these constellations. I'll definitely have to publish more. :)

    • profile image

      KDuBarry03 5 years ago

      Cyndi, I was amazed at all the information you included in this hub! I am not a buff on mythological creatures, myths, and legends; however, thank you for making me more so into one :) Perhaps I should pick up some astrology classes...

      I voted this hub up, useful, and interesting! Great Job :)

    • josh3418 profile image

      Joshua Zerbini 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Cyndi,

      Awesome hub dedicated to the constellation Leo! Very enjoyable read packed with lots of information!

    • Patty Kenyon profile image

      Patty Kenyon 5 years ago from Ledyard, Connecticut

      Voted UP, Interesting and Awesome!!! Another Great Hub!!! I do enjoy reading these!!