Rising high in the east in the early evening at this time of year- as April begins- is a pouncing lion with a ringed planet it its paws.

Rising high in the east in the early evening at this time of year- as April begins- is a pouncing lion with a ringed planet it its paws.
Saturn of course is known as the ringed planet, and it is currently prominent within the constellation Leo the Lion. Saturn looks like a bright star, even brighter than Regulus, the brightest actual star in Leo, which is just to the right of the planet.
Constellations are products of our imagination but since mankind started connecting the stars, they have been enjoyed worldwide, making star-pictures helping is to memorize positions of stars. At any given time there are about 1,500 stars visible to the unaided eyes, which would be a lot to remember without some aid! Even professional astronomers refer to constellations, though observatory telescopes as well as many commercially sold “backyard” telescopes automatically turn to their targets by punching in coordinates rather than eyeing the constellation stars to track down the spot.
Leo is among 88 constellations that in 1929 were officially recognized world-over by the International Astronomical Union. Societies in different ages and cultures have come up with a variety of their own constellations, but most of them we know today were first imagined by the ancient Greeks.  Many arrangements of stars easily lend themselves to a constellation no matter what culture claims to have thought it up; just the imaginative interpretation of what the star-picture represents, differs. Consider the Big Dipper. It certainly looks like one to us- a large soup ladle or water bucket dipper- but in Ireland it is the Plough, and in some parts of Europe it is known as the Wagon. The Big Dipper is actually part of a larger constellaton, Ursa Major the Great Bear.
Ancient cultures developed myths around the constellations, or pictured characters from their myths in the sky as a grand story book to aid them in passing on tales from one generation to the next. Farmers of yore used constellations to aid in keeping track of planting and harvesting time. They also became invaluable in navigation.
About 300 of the brighter stars have names, mostly invented by the ancient Arabians. Regulus, Rigel, Antares and Aldebaran are among the brightest stars we see. Then there many star names that even most backyard stargazers don’t on the tips of their tongue, let alone the pros. Try Al Minliar al Asad, Azelfafage, Dscubba, Gorgonea Quarta, Pherkad Minor, Torcularis Septentrionalis, and the writer’s personal favorites, Zuben Elgenubu and Zuben Elschemali.
Fortunately, astronomers keep working lists of star nomenclature that mostly consist of numbers. For example, Regulus is also referred to as Alpha Leonis, and depending on the star catalog, HR 3892 or HD 87901.
Another name for Regulus from antiquity is Cor Leonis, the Lion’s Heart. This bright blue-white star marks the bottom (south) end of the westward side of the main figure of the constellation. This westward side appears like a backward question mark to some, and marks the chest and head of the mythical beast. Over to the left, the constellation figure ends with Leo’s tail, marked by the star Denebola, right in place for the tuft of fur on the tail’s end.
Users of even small telescopes can locate several fairly bright galaxies within Leo. There are very useful star charts readily available to show you the fainter stars in any given constellation, marking positions of deep-sky objects such as galaxies within reach of modest instruments.
Saturn, however, steals the show if you have use of a telescope. Even low magnification will show that Saturn is a planet, with a tiny round dot marking the planet itself and the ring system extending out on either side. The rings presently are oriented towards us so that they are highly foreshortened. Look for a dim “star” that constantly accompanies Saturn, although in various places from night to night. This is Titan, the largest Saturnian satellite.
New Moon is on Saturday, April 5th so we have dark skies all week. After that, look for the thin crescent Moon in the west after sunset.
Keep looking up!
P.S. We welcome the Norwich Bulletin newspaper, published daily in Norwich, Connecticut, which is one of several known to be carrying this column, thanks to Gatehouse News Service.