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Constellations of the Southern Sky, Lepus - the Hare
Lepus is a constellation lying just south of the celestial
equator, immediately south of Orion. Its name is Latin for
hare. Although the hare does not represent any particular
figure in Greek mythology, Lepus was one of the 48
constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy,
and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations. It is
located below the constellation Orion (the hunter), and is
sometimes represented as a hare being chased by Orion or,
alternatively, by Orion's hunting dogs Canis Major and Canis
Minor. Crouching low on the horizon, the Hare tries to
remain unnoticed as it endlessly attempts to escape Orion's
attention and attack This constellation should not be
confused with Lupus, the wolf.
Four stars of this constellation (α, ß, γ, δ) form a
quadrilateral and are known as ‘Arsh al-Jawza', "the Throne
of Jawza' (Orion)" or al-Nihal, "Camels quenching their
thirst" in Arabic. Alpha Leporis, the brightest star of Lepus, is a white supergiant of magnitude 2.6, 1300
light-years from Earth. Its traditional name, Arneb, means "hare". Beta Leporis, called Nihal, is a yellow giant
of magnitude 2.8, 159 light-years from Earth. Gamma Leporis is a double star divisible in binoculars. The
primary is a yellow star of magnitude 3.6, 29 light-years from Earth. The secondary is an orange star of
magnitude 6.2. Delta Leporis is a yellow giant of magnitude 3.8, 112 light-years from Earth. Epsilon Leporis
is an orange giant of magnitude 2.2, 227 light-years from Earth. Kappa Leporis is a double star divisible in
medium aperture amateur telescopes, 560 light-years from Earth. The primary is a blue-white star of magnitude
4.4 and the secondary is a star of magnitude 7.4.
There are several variable stars in Lepus. R Leporis is a Mira variable star also called "Hind's Crimson Star" for
its striking red color. It varies in magnitude from a minimum of 9.8 to a maximum of 7.3, with a period of 420
days. R Leporis is at a distance of 1500 light-years. The colour intensifies as the star brightens. It was named for
John Russell Hind and has been reputed to be the most beautiful star in the sky.
There is one Messier Object in Lepus, M79, discovered in 1780 by Pierre Méchain. It is
a globular cluster of magnitude 8.0, 42,000 light-years from Earth. One of the few
globular clusters visible in the Northern Hemisphere winter, it is a Shapley class V
cluster, which means that it has an intermediate concentration towards its centre. It is
often described as having a "starfish" shape.
Lepus the hare has a number of
origins. According to one
story, Orion the famous hunter
(and the constellation right
above Lepus) loved to hunt
hares, and so Lepus was placed
John Russell Hind (1823- in the sky for Orion's benefit. In another story, Lepus
1895) a civil engineer, but represents the hare so often associated with the moon.
through help of Charles
While we tend to see a man in the moon, many other cultures have seen a hare, and have
W heatstone accepted a
many stories to tell about it. The Arabs believed that the four brightest stars in Lepus
position at the Royal
represented four camels drinking from the river Eridanus, another nearby constellation.
Greenwich Observatory
The early Egyptians believed Lepus to be the boat of Osiris.
under George Biddell
Airy. In 1853 Hind
In a medieval legend Lepus was seen as "Cain driven from the face of the Earth arrived
became Superintendent of at the Moon and eternally settled there with nothing but a bundle of twigs. An example
the Nautical Almanac. He
of this belief can be found in Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy ?Inferno” where the
is well-known for the
expression "Cain and the twigs" is used as a synonym of "moon". In a variation of this a
discovering of asteroids
man travelling on Sunday with a bundle of sticks on his back was asked by a fairy why
and variable stars.
he worked on the Sabbath. He replied : "Sunday on Earth or Monday in heaven, it is all
the same to me." The fairy answered ?as you have no regard for Sunday on Earth, take your perpetual Monday
to the Moon and carry your bundle forever". And there he still remains.