With spring having arrived, the length of day is increasing, and the apparent movement of the sun north is increasing daily. This is caused by the 32.5 degree tilt of the Earth and the path of the Earth around the sun.
The appearance of Leo the Lion announces the first sign of spring in the nighttime sky. This constellation can be recognized by the pattern of the backward question mark. This part of the constellation is also known as “the Sickle.” It is one of the most ancient constellations. It is also one of the zodiacal constellations. Because of it position in the sky, the moon and the bright planets can be seen in the constellation.
The brightest star in Leo is Regulus, a first magnitude star. Its name means “the Little King.” It was also know as one of the “royal stars of heaven.”
Regulus is about 78 light years away from Earth. A bright bluish star, its luminosity is nearly 300 times that of our Sun. The temperature of Regulus is nearly double that of our sun.
To the left of the sickle asterism are three stars that form a right-angle triangle. They mark the hind quarters of the lion. These three stars are also blue-white stars, extremely bright. The second brightest star is known as Denebola, which means “the Lion’s Tail.”
One of the closest stars to the Earth resides in Leo. Known as Wolf 359, it is about eight light years away from our planet. It is a small, reddish star that is at the end of its life cycle. It is only seen with the largest telescopes. It was discovered when it appeared in photographs taken by astrophotography pioneer Max Wolf in 1917. It has moved positions in images taken over a period of time. This star has been used in several science fiction stories. Most notable was in the “Star Trek: Next Generation” series.
This month’s highlight is the Lyirds meteor shower. Located from the constellation Lyra, this meteor shower occurs on the morning of April 22. With the moon in the sky, about five bright meteors per hour should be seen. The meteors are associated with Comet Thatcher, which has a 415-year orbit around the sun.
Mercury and Venus will appear together in the early morning hours on April 10. Mercury will appear to the upper left of a very bright Venus.
On the night of April 23, the moon and Jupiter will be extremely close together.
Saturn and the Moon will be close together on the morning of April 25.
The next meeting of the Springfield Astronomical Society will be April 23. It will be at the Library Center at 4653 S. Campbell Ave., Springfield. Starting time is 7 p.m. Our web site is http://www.springfieldastronomy.org.