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Lepus: The Sky Rabbit

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Lepus: The Sky Rabbit

Look, up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a …. rabbit? That’s not Peter Cottontail up in the night sky, but Lepus, one of the original 48 constellations cataloged by the Second Century Greek astronomer Ptolemy, as well as one of 88 officially recognized modern constellations.

Lepus sits just south of the celestial equator, below the Orion and surrounded by Monoceros, Canis Major, Columba, Caelum, and Eridanus. Its name means “hare” in Latin, and it contains 20 stars, 8 of which make up its rabbit shape. Only two of these are exceptionally bright. One is Alpha Leporis, also known as Arneb, an exceptionally large stars, 14 time the mass and 129 times the physical size of our own Sun. The other is and Beta Leporis, which is about half as brilliant as Arneb, but still very bright.

Together with Delta Leporis and Gamma Leporis and a popular quadrilateral-shaped asterism and are called “the Throne of Jawza.” Jawza is the Arabic name for the constellation Orion. The asterism is also popularly know as “Camels Quenching Their Thirst.”

The constellation contains two other stars of note, R Leporis, also known as Hind’s Crimson Star, and T Leporis. Both of these are variable stars, which means their apparent brightness changes over time.

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Lepus is also home to one Messier Object, M79, a faint globular cluster. Messier Objects ate deep sky objects identified primarily by French astronomer Charles Messier during the 18th Century.

Although there are no noteworthy rabbits in Greek mythology, the constellation’s proximity to the hunter Orion and one of his dogs, Canis Major, have led to an popular interpretation that the hare is being chased across the sky of Orion and his dogs.

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