The name, the history, the myth
Introduced in 1690 by the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius, this constellation is not associated with any mythological event since it is a recently established constellation.
The only possible motivation seems to be to give a puppy to Leo. Contrary to many minor constellations introduced by Hevelius, however, the Lesser Lion received his consecration in 1930, when he was recognized 232 degrees of sky that make him the 64th largest constellation, preceding much more famous colleagues like Dolphin, Lesser Dog and Boreal Crown.
The zodiac of the temple of Hathor of Dendera (Iunet) in Egypt, a sandstone bas-relief (now kept in the Louvre museum) depicts Cancer in this part of the sky. R. H. Allen states that these stars, together with others of the Big Dipper's paws (the ni e csi and lambda and mi UMa), drew a characteristic beetle (the dung beetle of the Nile) depicted with its front paws stretched out.
The constellation Leo Minor
Where can you find a Lesser Lion, a little lion, if not next to a Lion? In fact it is exactly like that and it is found in the sky exactly between the constellation of Leo and the Big Dipper: how many times have we observed one of the two, recognizing them for their particular shape, without perhaps imagining that just between those two constellations there is another one? As we will see, even if the component stars are all below the 4th magnitude and therefore the constellation is inconspicuous, inside it we will find very interesting objects.
In the representation of Hevelius and then of Stellarium instead the Lesser Lion is very recognizable
while this is the most modern depiction given by the well-known program
Some big and near stars
As always we arrived at the comparison between the biggest stars of the constellation and other enormously better known and more monstrous ones, that we met in the various episodes. In this case we have just three stars of prominence: the first, the biggest one is the 8 LMi, a red giant of class M1, whose diameter is 50 times that of the Sun, while the other two I have taken into consideration (36 LMi and 9 LMi, respectively of radius 28x and 24x that of the Sun) I have inserted them only because they are of the same stellar class (K) of the usual Aldebaran, which this time does not suffer the shame of being exceeded in size. I also did it for the joy of my Aldebaran friends, who were already starting to hate me... Adding that they are heartless is not even wrong: in fact, instead of the organ that is vital for us, they have another lung.
In the Lesser Lion there are three stars whose distance is less than 60 al: the nearest one is a G8 class star, the 11 LMi, placed at a distance of 37 al. When in science fiction time we will approach this star and look back towards the Sun, we will find it in an area of sky poor in bright stars, but some of them are very well known (Altair, Fomalhaut, Sirius and Raccoon). My local astrophile friends told me that that particular area of the sky has 11 barely visible stars, 11 lights, from which they took their name, Undicilumini.
The other two nearest stars are 20 LMi, of stellar class G3, placed at a distance of 49 al and HIP 49699, of class K0, distant 59 al from us: from the first of these two stars the Sun can be seen practically in the same zone of sky that we have just seen, only that now the visible lights are, not by chance, more, 20. It was therefore not necessary to bother my friends Ventilumini.
Deep Sky Objects
As I said at the beginning, in the Lesser Lion there are some remarkable deep sky objects, almost all of them belonging to the NGC catalogue and that now I show you in the photos usually taken by HST: in almost all cases, clicking on the photo you can see the higher definition version. Let's start from the lenticular galaxy NGC 2859
the galaxy NGC 2859
Then we move on to the barred spiral galaxy NGC 3003.
the galaxy NGC 3003
Here instead is the wonderful spiral galaxy NGC 3344, of which we can admire many details
the galaxy NGC 3344
The next spiral galaxy, instead, we see a cut galaxy: it is NGC 3432, also known as Knitting needle galaxy)
the galaxy NGC 3432
now we can admire the galaxy NGC 3486, also this view of face and beautiful.
the galaxy NGC 3486
In this other photo instead we see a couple of galaxies in interaction that form the object identified with the initials Arp 107
the two galaxies in interaction of Arp 107
and finally we see the central part of the galaxy with the crossed-out spiral NGC 3504...
the galaxy NGC 3504
The few names of the stars
In this small constellation only one star has received a name, Praecipua, from the Latin the main star, and it is the 46 LMi, the brightest star, that perhaps has not been baptized α for an oversight: this name, however, is never used. On the internet, and just for the record, I had found that the star 20 LMi, of which I have spoken before, would be called Cor (from the Latin heart), but I am not even able to quote the source.
The Lesser Lion is well visible at our latitudes, since it is bordering the Big Dipper: so there are no more excuses not to observe it! At 9 p.m., we find it low on the Northeast horizon in the first days of December: night after night it moves in the sky to culminate high on the horizon (almost at the zenith) in May of the following year. Finally it sets towards the end of August, almost perfectly in the Northwest.
But are we sure?
We first met the strange Knitting needle galaxy, whose name indicates what is commonly known as a knitting needle (you can check it out on Wikipedia!). Actually, if you look well at the shape of the galaxy (maybe from a distance, slightly half-closing the eyes) you can notice a better resemblance with a crochet hook. In my opinion the Astronomer who with a lot of imagination called the galaxy was wrong: I think therefore I can say that the galaxy should be called Crochet Hook Galaxy.
As they say, give to Caesar what is Caesar's!