Previous Lecture Complete and continue  

  Part 3b - Spring Constellations: Leo, Virgo and Boötes

In this section you'll learn about three bright spring constellations Leo, Virgo and Boötes.

The Brightest Constellations - Mar / Apr / May

Leo, Virgo and Boötes are best placed for late evening viewing in the spring months. However, they can also be seen after sunset in winter and before sunrise in summer. They are not visible in the fall because they are in the sky during the day.

Leo, The Lion

I struggle to see a lion in this collection of bright stars.

However, this is a helpful grouping in spring as it rides very high in the evening sky and has a dozen stars in it that are at magnitude 4 or brighter.

The picture below shows where to see it when looking south and what it looks like with and without and the imaginary lines of the constellation.


Leo's Stars to Magnitude 4.0, With and Without Constellation Lines

Images Courtesy of SkySafari Pro - www.SkySafariAstronomy.com.

Regulus is the brightest star in the group, shining at magnitude 1.4, and is named in the pictures above. To me, Regulus looks like the 'period' in a back-to-front question mark.

Leo contains five galaxies which are listed in the Messier catalog: M65 and M66 from the Leo Triplet, M95, M96 and M110. You can see the complete Messier list on Wikipedia, which can be sorted by constellation.

Virgo, The Virgin

With Regulus due south, you can find the brighter and bluer star Spica, shining at magnitude 1.0, lower in the southeast sky. Spica is the brightest star in Virgo and can be reached by following the 'arc to Arcturus' from the Big Dipper - see the picture below.

Finding Spica Using the 'Arc to Arcturus'

Image Courtesy of SkySafari Pro - www.SkySafariAstronomy.com.

Although it might not look it in the picture, this is an easy line to follow in reality. Arcturus and Spica are very bright, which makes them hard to miss. To further aid identification, Arcturus is notably orange and Spica is quite blue in color.

To find Virgo's position in the sky, use the screen grabs below. Once more, these only show the brightest stars both with and without traditional constellation lines.


Virgo's Stars to Magnitude 4.0, With and Without Constellation Lines

It's easy in this picture to see how close Virgo is to Leo in the sky.

Finally, before we move on to Boötes, this picture shows the whole sky in the region to magnitude 5.0, which will be more realistic if you have the benefit of a darker sky.


Finder Chart for Leo and Virgo Using Stars to Magnitude 5.0


Virgo has 11 Messier objects within its boundary, all of which are galaxies. Use Wikipedia for the complete list.

Boötes, The Herdsman

We glimpsed this constellation in the 'arc to Arcturus' picture further up the page. This big constellation is anchored to the fourth brightest star in the night sky: Arcturus.

Arcturus shines with an orange hue at magnitude 0.2 and appears to be at the apex of a giant 'kite' shape in our night sky. On our spring evening we see Arcturus due east, as in the picture below.


Boötes' Stars to Magnitude 4.0, With and Without Constellation Lines

Image Courtesy of SkySafari Pro - www.SkySafariAstronomy.com.


Boötes contains 8 stars, including Arcturus, which are brighter than magnitude 4. In a sky where magnitude 5 objects are visible, that number increases to around 30 stars.

There are no Messier objects within its boundary, but Boötes is essential for touring the night sky in spring, even if you only learn to recognise its brightest star.

With Leo, Virgo and Boötes added to your knowledge of the circumpolar constellations, you'll have 8 different groups of stars to help you navigate the night sky of spring.

Next, we'll take a look at the brightest constellations of a summer's evening.