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Wyoming Skies for May

April 30, 2009

(A monthly look at the night skies of Wyoming, written by Ron Canterna, professor in the University of Wyoming Department of Physics and Astronomy.)

The May skies offer a view of several prominent planets and a peak at the summer constellations.

Directly overhead at sunset our guiding lighthouse, the Big Dipper, appears with its cup opening northward. The two "pointer stars" outline the outer rim of the cup on the western side and point almost directly to the north star, Polaris.

Four prominent stars mark the cup as a rectangle and the three bright stars in its handle form an imaginary arc to Arcturus, the brightest star in the kite-shaped constellation Bootes, the "Bear driver." Arcturus is the bright orangish star in the "guardian of the bear."

The constellation Virgo and its bluish gem-star Spica is next in line for this grand spring curved arc. Leo the lion is encompassed by this celestial arc. Saturn is close by and is seen on the meridian after sunset.

Say goodbye to the Gemini twins Castor and Pollux, Orion the hunter, Taurus the bull and Pleiades, the seven sisters -- they set earlier during the month.

Morning risers will see Jupiter rise at 3 a.m. on the eastern horizon followed by the bright "morning star" Venus and our red planet, Mars, just before sunrise.

May interest: The Constellation Leo the Lion

Saturn is at the base of the prominent constellation Leo the Lion this month. Leo is one of the oldest and most recognized of constellations from antiquity. You can find "the lion" in mythological and constellation stories for the ancient Turkish, Persian, Syrian, Hebrew and Babylonian cultures.

In the Greek culture, Leo the Lion represents the first labor of Hercules -- the slaying of the Nemean lion. The Egyptians honored Leo since the sun is found in this constellation during the summer months of growth and life-giving from the Nile.

Two prominent stars in Leo are Regulus, the brightest star, and Denebola, the tail of the lion. Copernicus called Regulus the "little king," but it is the heart of the constellation. Regulus is a blue star nearly 85 light years away from the sun; Denebola is closer, only 42 light years away.

Leo the Lion is one of the most recognized constellations, so go out and explore its wonders these warm May evenings.

For more information, visit the Wyoming Skies home page ( or send an e-mail to



Posted on Thursday, April 30, 2009

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