Constellations: Lepus 'the Hare' Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Constellations: Lepus 'the Hare'

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Name:Lepus (Latin: 'hare')
Genitive:Leporis
Short form:Lep
Area:290 sq deg
Co-ordinates2:Right Ascension 06h, Declination −20°
Origin:Ancient

The small southern constellation Lepus honours the hare which is hunted nightly by Orion and his hunting dogs. Lepus is easy to find, being directly beneath possibly the most well-known constellation of all, Orion.

Arabs historically saw Lepus not as an animal but 'the throne of the central one', because of its position under Orion.

Lepus shares its borders with Eridanus, Caelum, Columba, Canis Major and Monoceros.

There is one Messier object in Lepus, M79  — a globular star cluster about 42,000 light years3 away. Discovered in 1780 by French astronomer Pierre François André Méchain (1744 - 1804), the cluster is +7.7 magnitude, although this can vary slightly.

A quite remarkable object in Lepus is the planetary nebula IC 418, which has been named The Spirograph Nebula because it looks as if it has been designed by someone using the toy. The central star, ZZ Leporis, is giving off chaotic solar winds which may be the cause of the remarkable pattern.

Stars

The scientific star names are simple to understand (if you know your Greek alphabet). For example: 'alpha Leporis' means it is the brightest star in the constellation Lepus. The next brightest is designated 'beta' etc. Combined with the genitive name, this is known as the 'Bayer designation'. Some stars have proper names as well, for example, alpha Leporis is Arneb. Others are known by their catalogue number.

The star R Leporis glows an intense red. Its discoverer, the English astronomer John Russell Hind (1823 - 1895), was so taken with R Leporis that in 1845 he wrote of it as resembling a blood-drop on the background of the sky. It is now known by the common name 'Hind's Crimson Star'.

Gliese 229 is a binary star system whose components are neighbours of ours, at just 19 light years distant.

Star Table

StarDesignationName or
catalogue number
MagnitudeDistance
(light years)
Spectral classification
and/or comments
α Lepalpha LepArneb+2.61,280Yellow-white supergiant
β Lepbeta LepNihal+2.8160Yellow supergiant
γ Lepgamma Lep13 Leporis+3.6 var29Multiple star system
δ Lepdelta Lep15 Leporis+3.7112Yellow dwarf
ε Lepepsilon LepSasin+3.2225Orange giant
ζ Lepzeta Lep14 Leporis+3.570Has a debris disc
η Lepeta Lep16 Leporis+3.749Yellow-white dwarf
θ Leptheta Lep18 Leporis+4.7170White giant
ι Lepiota Lep3 Leporis+4.5240Blue-white dwarf
κ Lepkappa Lep4 Leporis+4.4560Blue-white dwarf
R LepHD 31996Hind's Crimson Star+5.5 var1,500Carbon star
Gliese 229HD 42581SAO 171334+8.2 var19Binary star system

New General Catalogue (NGC) and IC (Index Catalogue)

The NGC was compiled by John Louis Emil Dreyer (director of the Armagh Observatory from 1882 - 1916).

IC 418 is the enigmatic Spirograph Nebula discovered by Scottish astronomer Williamina Paton Stevens Fleming.

NGC/IC Table

CatalogueTypeMagnitudeDistance
(light years)
Remarks
NGC 2017Open cluster+6.41,300Six gravitationally bound stars
NGC 1904 (M79)Globular cluster+7.742,000Part of Canis Major Dwarf galaxy
IC 418Planetary nebula+112,000Discovered in 1891
by Williamina Fleming

Extrasolar Planet in Lepus

One extrasolar planetary system found in the constellation Lepus, HD 33283 b, is a gas giant which is in an extremely close and chaotic orbit around its star. A further extrasolar planet was detected by the WASP survey in 2011.

Extrasolar Planet Table

Star name or
catalogue number
Planet
catalogue number
Planet mass
(Jovian scale)
Orbital period
(Earth days)
Year of discoveryComments
HD 33283HD 33283 b0.3318.22006Hot gas giant, eccentric orbit
WASP-61WASP-61 b2.063.852011Hot gas giant

Superstitions

There are many superstitions surrounding hares:

Witches were believed to be able to turn themselves into the shape of a hare.

The creatures have been hunted for hundreds of years. Hare meat is an extremely rich source of iron and protein, but many people will not touch them, never mind eat them!

A hare running through a town was once seen as an omen that there would be a house fire shortly afterwards.

If a pregnant woman stumbled upon a hare, or stepped into its lair, there was a superstition that her child would be born with a hare-lip. To prevent this, the woman would have to stoop down and tear the hem of her dress to counteract the curse.

For some people hares meant bad luck. Sailors would delay a voyage if they encountered a hare. And if someone were to come across one on a journey it was thought wise to return home. There were even charms to chant to ward off the jinx: Spit over your left shoulder then say 'Hare before, Trouble behind: Change ye, Cross, and free me'; or touch each shoulder with your forefinger and say, 'Hare, hare, God send thee care.'

Other people thought hares were a good luck charm! As a prevention against colic, Samuel Pepys always kept a hare's foot on his person. Fretful, colicky baby? Some midwives advised feeding them hare's brains. (This recipe did not make babyfood manufacturers' menus. Nowadays a teaspoonful of gripe water is preferred, but there are other treatments.)

1The tortoise.2Current IAU guidelines use a plus sign (+) for northern constellations and a minus sign (−) for southern ones.3A light year is the distance light travels in one year, roughly 5.88 trillion miles or 9.46 trillion km.

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