A ride into Earth orbit

It's time to get back into the meat and potatoes of what this column is all about: amateur astronomy.

As such, it is good periodically to write refreshers on some things that we might have forgotten.

The best thing to do when getting reacquainted with the night sky is to look for familiar star patterns and gatherings. Good thing there are several that can be readily found no matter what season you are in.

Right now, one of the most prominent star patterns -- or asterisms -- in the night sky is the sickle, or, the backwards question mark, if you will, in the constellation Leo, the Lion. Right now the sickle is high up in the sky and is quite large, so you can't miss it. The bright star Regulus marks the bottom of the sickle. It is about magnitude 1.3, so it is considerably bright.

One other notable feature of the sickle is gamma Leo, the star in the deepest part of the sickle's curve. It is a golden pair of stars that can be separated in a small telescope.

Another feature of Leo, though not part of the sickle, is the star Denebola, which is at the tail of the Lion. It is notably bright as well.

Did you know that Leo has a companion constellation? Like several other constellations, there is a "small" version of the major constellation -- in this case, called Leo Minor. Unlike Leo, however, Leo Minor has no noticeable qualities that would fascinate the beginning astronomer. The constellation is primarily made up of three stars, each no brighter than magnitude 3-4. Leo Minor is located in between Leo and Ursa Major, and a dark sky is usually required to see this particular area.

Now would be a good time to wait until it's completely dark, then spot the sickle and big dipper almost directly overhead. If you want to get reacquainted with the night sky, that's as good a place as any to start.

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Malan is entertainment editor and astronomy columnist for the News & Eagle.

Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for Joe? Send an email to jmalan@enidnews.com.

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Entertainment Editor | Copy Editor | Astronomy Writer

Hi, I'm Joe. I've been with the Enid News & Eagle since June 2009. I design many of the pages you see each week in your newspaper. I love writing and talking about space, and I love listening to and writing about music as well.

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