Moon and Leo

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Moon and Leo

The heart of the lion stays close to the Moon the next couple of nights. The bright star that marks the lion’s heart is Regulus. It’s to the lower left of the Moon at nightfall this evening, and to the upper right of the Moon tomorrow evening.

Regulus is impressive. It’s a system of four stars, but only one shines bright enough to see. Known as Regulus A, it’s almost four times the Sun’s mass, and more than 300 times the Sun’s brightness.

But the Moon is even closer to another star of Leo that’s more impressive. Eta Leonis is to the upper left of Regulus. It looks fainter than Regulus. Under the glare of the nearby Moon, in fact, it can be hard to see — especially from light-polluted cities.

That’s only because Eta Leonis is much farther than Regulus — about 1800 light-years, versus only 79 light-years for Regulus.

In fact, Eta Leonis is a one-percenter — among the biggest and brightest stars in the galaxy. Studies show that it’s about 10 times heavier than the Sun, about 50 times wider, and about 20 thousand times brighter.

Eta Leonis is only about 25 million years old, compared to four and a half billion years for the Sun. But thanks to its great mass, the star is near the end of its life. Within a few million years, it’s likely to explode as a supernova. For a while, it will greatly outshine every other star in the galaxy — a brilliant beacon for the lion.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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