Constellation Leo

Mythology says Hercules killed the Lion and Zeus placed it in the stars.

The constellation Leo is found between Virgo (east) and Cancer (west).

Origin of Leo

Leo is Latin for lion. This regal animal has represented the constellation Leo for thousands of years. Some believe the Egyptians were the first to assign the animal to the constellation. This was done to mark the summer solstice when the desert lions migrated to the rain-swollen Nile. It was during this time of year that the sun resided in the constellation Leo.

Constellation Leo: Bright Stars

Unlike its neighbor, Cancer, Leo has quite a few bright stars.

The three brightest:

  • Regulus, Alpha Leonis η Leonis - Lion's Heart
  • Denebola
  • Algieba

Starry Lion

You can see the lion in the constellation Leo once you locate the stars that comprise what is called the Sickle (head and mane). Ancient Egyptian astronomers depicted this as a knife.

  • Regulus
  • Adhafera
  • Denebola
  • β Regulus
  • η Leonis
  • γ Leonis
  • Ras Elased Borealis
  • Ras Elased Australis

Unique Stars In Leo

There are some unique stars within this constellation.

  • Wolf 359 is one of the closest stars to earth at 7.7 light years.
  • Gliese 436, nearly 33 light years away from the sun has the smallest extra-solar planet, a planet orbiting a star beyond the solar system.
  • CW Leo (IRC +-10216 - Brightest star seen using infrared N-band

Six Galaxies Within Constellation

There are five known galaxies within the constellation Leo.Spiral Galaxies:

  • M65
  • M66
  • M95
  • M96

Elliptical Galaxy:

  • M105

Non-Messier Cataloged Galaxy:

  • NGC 3628 - This galaxy went undetected by Messier because of the power of his telescopes.

Leo In Greek Mythology

As in all constellations, you can discover various myths surrounding their origins. The most common ones are found in Greek mthology, but even Greek mythology has many versions and contradictions.

Mythology surrounding constellation Leo:

Hercules was the illegitimate son of Zeus and a Greek mortal woman named Alcmena, (Alcmene). Alcmena named the baby, Herakles, which in Greek translates as glorious gift of Hera. Zeus's wife, Hera, tried to kill Hercules after he was born and failed.

Hera's outrage never died. Years later after Hercules had a family, she cast a spell over him so he lost his mind and murdered his wife and children. Once the spell was broken, Hercules was devastated and sought penance from the oracle at Delphi. Hercules was sent to serve as a slave to King Eurystheus of Tiryns with the promise if he completed all of the tasks the king set before him, Hercules would be made immortal.

Some versions state he was sentenced to twelve years while others claim it was ten years. It's commonly held that it was twelve years since he was to complete one labor per year and there were twelve labors of Hercules.

Leo constellation is located between Virgo and Cancer.

Hercules's first labor:

Hercules was ordered to kill the Nemean lion (spawned by Typhon) that was terrorizing Corinth. The lion's hide was impenetrable. Neither spear nor knife could pierce the lion's tough hide. Hercules finally rammed his fist down the lion's throat and strangled it to death. Hercules then skinned the lion. One version states he wore the hide while another claims he covered his shield with the lion's hide.

In the telling of the myth, it's said that Zeus, Hercules's father lifted the lion up into the heavens and placed it among the stars as a way to honor his son's first triumph.

Another version describes how Hera was furious over Hercules's success and flung the lion into the stars.

Star-Crossed Lovers:

This myth attributes the constellation's origins to Pyramus and Thisbe. Despite their families' objections these two lovers decided to elope but when Thisbe arrived at the designated place, her beloved Pyramus was not there. Instead, Thisbe discovered a bloodied lion and ran from it, but not before the mighty lion pawed at her veil and captured it. Meanwhile, Pyramus finally arrived and was overcome with grief when he found the torn bloody veil.

Assuming Thisbe was dead and the lion had escaped with her body, he killed himself with his sword. Needing to be certain her lover was really dead, Thisbe returned and when she found Pyramus dead, she flung herself onto his sword and died. Zeus took Thisbe's veil and floated it into the sky (Coma Berenices) where it remains beside the lion. Perhaps this myth inspired Shakespeare to write Romeo and Juliet.

Lion Loses His Tail

In 240 B.C., Ptolemy III's priest-astronomer reassigned the lion's tail to a newly invented constellation called Coma Berenices or Bernice's Hair.

Astrology: Leo

Leo is the fifth sign on the zodiac wheel. It's considered a masculine fire sign. If you were born between July 23 to Aug 23, your natal sun sign is Leo.

Leo Traits And Characteristics

Some of the traits and characteristics of a Leo may remind you of a lion. A Leo is regal in mannerisms and appearances.

  • Creative
  • Center of Attention
  • Natural Leader
  • Thick Hair
  • Strong
  • Loyal
  • Prideful

Connect The Stars

You can connect constellation Leo's stars to form a lion:

  • One method reveals a crouching lion facing west
  • H.A. Rey's (Curious George author and constellation artist) method reveals a walking tiger

Best Time to View

Constellation Leo is a bright group of stars and is best viewed during spring.

Constellation Leo