VANDALIA – Most people that look up are pretty confident when it comes to picking out the two most well-known patterns in the sky, the Big Dipper and Orion, beyond that it can be a struggle. While the Big Dipper can be found any night of the year from our area, Orion the Hunter is more of a seasonal constellation due to our location. The Dipper circles the North Star year round, but you’ll have to hurry if you want to spot Orion.
Just following sunset, low in the west, a keen eye can still spot his three signature “belt” stars as they slowly disappear below the advancing horizon. In a couple of weeks our planet will have advanced around the Sun to the point where it’s glare makes it impossible to spot this winter constellation.
Thankfully, this same motion around the Sun will expose a new constellation for us to enjoy as the nights grow warmer. Leo the Lion is not as bright a collection of stars as the hunter it replaces, but it does have a couple of patterns that are hard to mistake if you know what to look for.
First, the “mane” and “heart” of the lion are traced out in the shape of a backwards question mark or “sickle” shape that can now be found high in the south. The dot at the bottom of this question mark pattern is the heart of the lion, a brighter star known as Reglus. The stars above Reglus form a “C” shape which traces out the back of Leo’s mane as he’s facing west.
Once you’ve identified that, look just to the left, or east for a small right triangle. The triangle will have a long bottom and top, with the right side noticeably smaller, this represents the hind quarters of Leo. While you’re out, look further to the east and the brightest “star” you see will actually be the planet Jupiter, which outshines everything except the Moon this time of year.
In like a lion, Leo, and out like a lamb, Aries, the constellations provide a steady stream of ever changing patterns for you to discover and rediscover year after year, if you only look up!
To find out more about these events, or anything else that’s, “Up” feel free to call Scott Oldfield, at the Vandalia Planetarium, Smith Middle School 241-6211, or visit in person. The planetarium presents a free show, open to the public the second Saturday of each month at 7 p.m. The May 13 show will be on the upcoming eclipse.
Scott Oldfield is a science teacher in the Vandalia-Butler School District and the Director of the Smith Middle School Planetarium. Reach him at 241-6211.