ALTHOUGH the bright and vividly coloured stars of the winter constellations like Orion, Taurus and Gemini are still visible, they are dropping ever lower towards the west now as darkness falls, and soon we'll lose them, writes STUART ATKINSON. It's always a shame to say goodbye to such distinctive sky landmarks as Orion's Belt, the Hyades and Pleiades star clusters and violently sparkly Sirius, but as they leave our skies for another year the constellations of spring are becoming more readily visible in the east.

Most obvious of these is Leo, which represents a lion in the sky. Leo is very easy and quick to find because the head of the lion has a very distinctive and unique shape. Some people see it as a back-to-front question mark. Others see the hook of a coat hanger. Still others see an old fashioned scythe, even if they don't know the actual astronomical nickname for it: The Sickle.

Finding Leo is very easy. On the next dark evening just look for the Big Dipper balanced on the end of its curved handle towards the north east, then look a short distance away to its right. You'll see the Sickle of Leo - and the rest of the constellation there, perhaps a third of the way between the Big Dipper and Orion. The bright star at the end of the Sickle is Regulus, the 21st brightest star in the sky. It lies more than 77 light years from Earth, and its name means Heart of the Lion in Arabic.

Cross your fingers for a clear sky on the evening of Monday, March 18, because the almost Full Moon will be shining right above Regulus; the pair making a lovely sight together.