Leo the Lion

Leo, the Lion, is one of the 12 zodiacal constellations that mark the apparent path of the Sun and planets through the sky and it’s one of the first constellations of spring. In fact, when you see his head poking above the eastern horizon in early February you know spring isn’t far off. Leo is one of the easiest constellations to see – he actually looks like a lion. To find Leo look for the pattern of stars shaped like a backward question mark. This is the head and the big mane of the lion. The period at the end of the question mark is the bright star Regulus, the brightest star in Leo and one of the brightest stars in the night sky. Regulus is the heart of the lion and is Latin for prince or little king.  Look to the left of the question mark and there is a right triangle of stars. These stars represent the lion’s hindquarters and tail.  The bright star at the tip of the triangle is called Denebola, an Arabic word meaning the Lion’s Tail. The Big Dipper can be used to help find Leo. Using the two stars on the front of the bowl, called the Pointer Stars, draw a straight line that lands on the back of the lion.

Leo is an ancient constellation known to the Mesopotamians as long ago as 4000BCE. The Babylonians called Leo UR.GU.LA – the great lion. In Greek mythology Leo was the Nemean lion defeated by Hercules as one of his 12 labors. Many cultures saw a lion in these stars, but not all. For instance, the Native American Ojibwe culture saw the backwards question mark as the curly tail of a mountain lion with its head found in the stars of the constellation Hydra, calling this constellation Gaadidnaway or Curly Tail. They knew when Curly Tail was overhead the ice would be thawing and that it was time to move from winter camp to sugar bush camp. To the Dakota/Lakota people the backwards question mark was Oceti/Peta meaning Fireplace/Fire. It is the sacred fire built to heat the sacred stones for the sweat lodge ceremony. As the nights go by enjoy watching this ancient constellation.

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