Cats

StarDate: January 24, 2009

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Three cats pad across the sky tonight. One of them is bright and easy to find. But the other two are pretty stealthy, so you need patience and a nice dark sky.

The brightest of the three is Leo, the lion -- one of a handful of constellations that actually looks like its namesake.

Leo's brightest star is Regulus, one of the brightest stars in the night sky. It rises almost due east around 7 or 8 o'clock, with the lion's body following it into the sky.

Once Regulus climbs into view, look to its left -- toward the north -- for a group of stars forming a backwards question mark. These stars outline Leo's head and mane -- part of what makes the lion so easy to pick out.

And a couple of hours later, look low in the east for Leo's tail -- a white star named Denebola -- an Arabic name that means, appropriately enough, "tail of the lion." Don't confuse it with the slightly brighter planet Saturn, which is a little to the right of Denebola as they rise.

Just to the north of Leo is Leo Minor, the little lion. "Little" is the operative word here, since the constellation is both small and faint. Its brightest star doesn't even have a proper name, and you need some dark skies to see it.

Finally, stretching overhead from the lions look for the third cat: the lynx. It covers a fairly large region of the sky, but it, too, is faint. Its name refers not to its cat-like appearance, but to the fact that you need the eyes of a lynx to see it.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008

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