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The Hare

Constellation of the southern sky

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Map of Lepus

Lepus in the Sky

Lepus, the Hare, is a collection of stars lying directly southward of Orion, and westward of Sirius in Canis Major. Lepus includes no particularly bright stars (the brightest, Arneb, has a magnitude of just +2.6) but in combination they form a shape reminiscent of a hare's head and body with two long ears.

This group of stars has been known as the Hare since ancient times, but it does not appear to be connected to any specific myth or story. Instead it is said to simply represent a hare being chased across the sky by the Hunter Orion and his two hunting dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor.


Lepus is not rich in prominent stars. The brightest and best known is Arneb (from the Arabic for 'Hare'), an immensely luminous supergiant star, but one so far from the Solar System that its intrinsic brightness appears greatly reduced. At more than 1,200 light years' distance, Arneb shines with an apparent magnitude of +2.6, making it the 99th brightest individual star in the sky.

Southward of Arneb is Beta Leporis or Nihal, whose name comes from an alternative Arabic description of this constellation: Al Nihál, 'The Drinking (Camels)'. Though far less luminous than Arneb, yellow Nihal is also far closer to Earth - roughly a tenth of the distance - and appears only slightly less bright than its neighbour Arneb in the sky.

To the west and east of Arneb and Nihal, six other stars outline the shape of the Hare's head and body. Two further stars extend northward from the 'head' - Kappa and Lambda Leporis - giving the constellation the distinctive 'ears' that gained it its name.

Lepus also contains a number of faint variable stars, perhaps most notably R Leporis. Also known as Hind's Crimson Star, this is a pulsating red star of the Mira type with a huge range of brightness. At times it can reach the verge of naked eye visibility, while at others it fades down to magnitude of +12, about one four hundredth of its maximum brightness.

Deep Sky Objects

The constellation Lepus describes an area of space looking outward from the Galactic disc into intergalactic space, and so contains few deep sky objects within the Milky Way Galaxy itself. One notable exception is IC 418, the so-called Spirograph Nebula, a planetary nebula that takes its name from the complex spiralling patterns within its structure.

Beyond the edges of the Milky Way Galaxy is M79, a globular cluster some 46,000 light years from the Solar System, forming part of the Milky Way's halo of clusters of this kind. Looking out further into intergalactic space, Lepus is not rich in objects, but it is home to a scattering of faint galaxies. Examples are the pair of spirals IC 438 and IC 2151, appearing optically close together in the sky, but actually forty-two million light years from one another.


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