Tonight – on Friday, May 13, 2016 – and for the next few evenings, as soon as darkness falls, look outside for the moon. On May 13, the moon is at or near its first quarter phase. The nearby point of light will be Regulus, brightest star in the constellation Leo the Lion.
Just don’t mistake a much-brighter point of light – the king planet Jupiter – for Regulus. Jupiter blazes to the east of the moon and Regulus, and the waxing gibbous moon will meet up with Jupiter on May 14.
If your sky is dark enough, you might see that Regulus marks the bottom of a backwards question mark pattern of stars. This pattern is known as The Sickle, and it outlines the Lion’s head and mane. Regulus, meanwhile, is often called the Lion’s Heart.
The name for Leo’s second brightest star, Denebola, comes from an Arabic term which translates to the Lion’s Tail. Two other stars – Zosma and Chertan – form a noticeable triangle with Denebola to draw out the hindquarters and tail of Leo the Lion. (See the chart of Leo the Lion below.)
The glare of the moon might make it difficult to envision the celestial Lion this upcoming week. However, if you can locate the star Regulus, you can view the Lion in all his starlit majesty during the upcoming moon-free evenings in the last week week of May and the first week of June.
Are you familiar with the Big Dipper? If so, this star formation serves as a wonderful guide to the Leo star Regulus.
From mid-northern latitudes, the upside-down Big Dipper shines way up high in the northern sky as darkness falls. The Big Dipper is even visible from the southern tropics, though it sits lower down in their northern sky on these May and June evenings.
Draw an imaginary line from the star Megrez and through the star Phecda, and then take a long jump to the star Regulus. Try this star-hopping trick tonight. Then try it again when the moon leaves the evening sky in another couple weeks.
Bottom line: On the night of May 10, 2016, the bright star near the moon is Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo the Lion, often called the Lion’s Heart.