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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Earthsky Tonight — April 12: Star-hop from Leo to the Coma star cluster

Courtesy of EarthSky
A Clear Voice for Science

We show the constellation Leo the Lion for about 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. tonight. At this time, the Lion will be due south and at his highest point in the sky.

Two distinctive star patterns make the Lion fairly easy to identify. Leo’s brightest star – the sparkling blue-white gem Regulus – dots a backward question mark of stars known as The Sickle. If you could see a Lion in this pattern of stars, The Sickle would outline the Lion’s mane. A triangle of stars highlights the Lion’s tail and hindquarters. Denebola is an Arabic term meaning the Lion’s Tail.

Now try to star-hop to the Coma star cluster from Leo the Lion. Draw a line from Regulus through the top star of the triangle (Zosma), and go about twice this distance to locate the cluster. Although the Coma cluster (Melotte 111) is visible to the unaided eye in a dark country sky, you may need binoculars to see this tangle of stars if your skies are beset by light pollution. This open cluster of about 100 stars lies some 288 light-years distant.

The Coma star cluster once served as the Lion’s tufted tail. Larry Sessions tells the story about how the Lion lost his tail on our March 14 EarthSky Tonight show.

Other Links:

Astronomy Picture of the Day from NASA/JPL

CHANDRA Photo Album

U.S. Naval Observator Astronomical Information center

StarDate Online

Sky and Telescope

National Geographic

Space Com

Amazing Space

The York County Astronomical Society

Scope City

James S McDonnell Planetarium

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