Starwatch: look out for Leo the Lion

At this time of year in the northern hemisphere, the constellation of Leo, the Lion, is beautifully placed for observation in the evenings.

The chart shows the view tonight, looking south at midnight from London. It presents the perfect opportunity to track down a faint star cluster that can be seen with the naked eye.

Known as the Coma star cluster, it can be found in the constellation of Coma Berenices, the queen’s hair, and was once associated with Lion itself, where it was said to represent the beast’s tail.

To see the star cluster for yourself, head to a dark sky and let your eyes adjust for about 30 minutes or so. Then sweep your gaze diagonally across the body of Leo, from bottom right to top left, and continue on for roughly the same distance again. Be patient, allow your eye to relax and you will see a tangle of faint stars.

In reality, there are about 50 stars associated with the cluster, which is located about 300 light years away. A pair of binoculars will offer a particularly rewarding view.

The cluster is also visible from the southern hemisphere, where it will culminate (reach its highest altitude) around midnight in the northern sky.

The Guardian

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