Spring is galaxy time for the northern night sky, and the observer is spoilt for choice between the rich offerings of Ursa Major, Leo, Virgo and Coma Berenices. Working out what you are looking at can be a problem, though, as some of the richest areas for galaxies have few bright stars to act as waymarkers. Leo offers two attractive galaxy groupings that are both bright and easy to find. It helps that Leo itself is one of the most distinctive constellations in the night sky, and unlike most of them does resemble the creature it is named after. This year Jupiter is not far to the west if you need an additional guide. The map below shows the central part of the constellation:
The left hand ellipse shows where you can find the very pleasing, and contrasting, trio of 3 ninth magnitude spiral galaxies – M65,M66 and NGC3628 with differing orientations, the third listed being edge on. This is the well known Leo Triplet. A vulgar way of remembering where to find the group in relation to the lion’s body may occur to you!
The Leo Triplet is also a useful start point for another well known Leo grouping. Just head W towards Regulus (alpha on the map), and about half way there you can find another galaxy triplet ( M105,NGC 3384, and NGC 3389) and a little further SW the bright and pleasing pair M95 and M96.
Once you are confident about finding these two groups there is plenty more to explore!