lies to the north of
the Great Lion, Leo, in an area of the sky that has no bright
stars and only a few celestial objects for backyard astronomers
to observe. Nor are there Western mythological beasts to enliven
stories told around the campfire.
Together with other stars in this region, including those we know
as Leo, the Chinese recognized a great Yellow Dragon, Hien-Youen,
proceeding up the steps of heaven on its way to the land of the
gods. That is why we see in this illustration a dragon, rather
than a lion cub.
The dragon in China was the symbol of fruitfulness brought by
water. The months of May and June often were periods of drought
in China when the sky burned like a red glowing sphere and not
a drop of rain would fall. It was then that the Chinese sent up
prayers to the Dragon to give rain. A great clay dragon was carried
through the streets and through the fields while the people prayed
The brightest star in the constellation is known as Praecipua,
48 Leonis Minoris, and is but magnitude 3.9. There are only two
other fourth magnitude stars. A Mira-type variable, R Leonis Minoris,
has a period of just over a year, during which time it reaches
a maximum brightness of 7.1, then descends to a minimum of 12.8.
Several small and faint galaxies can be found, including NGC 3344
and NGC 3486, both face-on spirals of tenth magnitude, each less
than seven arcminutes across. Two other galaxies, NGC 3395 and
NGC 3398, are interacting, and may be of particular interest.