Valley Skies: Learn about Leo, exoplanets and more

Bright Regulus in Leo, at a fairly close 77+ light years away, is actually a multiple-star system.

Bright Regulus in Leo, at a fairly close 77+ light years away, is actually a multiple-star system. Leo is populated with various double stars; not surprising since multiple star systems are not unusual.

And over a dozen Leo stars are currently known to have

exoplanets or extrasolar planets, which are any planets that orbit a star other than the Sun. In the same direction as Leo but much farther away are many bright galaxies. One, named NGC 2903, is a barred spiral galaxy similar to our Milky Way, likely with exoplanets too.

East of Leo is Coma Berenices, at one time considered the tuft at the end of the lion’s tail. While there are no really bright stars close by, further out is globular cluster m53 at 56+ thousand light years (ly) away. Yet even farther is the Virgo Cluster of galaxies at some 54+ million ly, and galaxies in Coma Cluster some 300 or so million ly from us! Distance data found varies, but regardless, the numbers are big!

Flanking Leo on the west is the Bee Hive Cluster. Like the Pleiades mentioned last month, a star cluster is a grand collection of stars born together — in this rare case maybe two. A paper through Britain’s Royal Astronomical Society reported close spectral analysis suggests two different populations have intersected.

A surprise treat for you is a line of eight stars in a faint but very distinct row under Leo (at 10h 46.2min, dec 3 deg 22 min). Star hop down as the chart shows from the back of Leo then slowly scan right. The pattern or “asterism” requires a wide field of view to see the full group, and with no similar magnitude objects of interest nearby. The “line” is just coincidental, appearing only as such from our planet’s direction. Another distinct line, “Kemble’s Cascade”, inspired me to search for others. One wonders if a very minute percentage are actually lines there in space? The Big Dipper has four stars that really are in line. That is part of a bigger story for another column. [Note: In last month’s column, the Latin spelling of the constellation “Columba” mistakenly appeared as “Columbia”.]

Brian Fenerty is a valley resident and an esteemed member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. He is semi-retired from a career in painting and photography.