Lepus the Hare – facts for kids

Lepus the Hare – facts for kids
Lepus and Canis Major, as shown on Urania's Mirror, a set of celestial cards produced in England in 1825

The constellation Lepus represents a hare, an animal related to rabbits. Nearly 2000 years ago the astronomer Ptolemy included this very old constellation in his list of 48 constellations. In later times, Lepus has often been shown as though Orion's hunting dogs are chasing it.

The constellation
Here is the outline of Lepus. The two brightest stars – Alpha Leporis and Beta Leporis – now have official names accepted by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). Arneb is the brightest and Nihal close behind.

A measure of a star's brightness is its magnitude. The brighter the star, the lower its magnitude number. The very brightest stars even have negative numbers. Sirius, for example, has a magnitude of -1.44.

Arneb has a magnitude of 2.6 and Nihal, almost as bright, is magnitude 2.8. However, this is only how bright the stars look from Earth. Arneb is a supergiant 12,000 times brighter than the Sun. When it dies, it will go as a supernova. Nihal is only 170 times brighter than the Sun. It almost matches Arneb in brightness because it's only 160 light years away, while Arneb is 1300 light years away. Arneb's absolute magnitude is -5.4!

Hind's Crimson Star
In 1845 English astronomer John Russell Hind discovered an amazing star. He described it as looking “like a drop of blood on a black field.” This brilliant red star is over 1300 light years from us. It's a variable star and its brightness varies from about 5000 to 7000 times the brightness of the Sun.

Deep sky objects
NGC 1821 is an irregular galaxy about 60,000 light years from us. Most galaxies are either spiral or elliptical (egg-shaped). But there are also galaxies that have been pulled out of shape, maybe in collisions with other galaxies. These are called irregular galaxies. NGC 1821 got to be a galaxy of interest when a supernova was discovered there in 2002.

Messier 79 is a globular cluster 100 light years across with around 150,000 stars. It's about 60,000 light years from the center of our Milky Way. Astronomers think it didn't form in our galaxy, but in a neighboring galaxy called the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy.

IC 418 is known as the Spirograph Nebula. It's a planetary nebula, something that's created when a sunlike star starts running out of fuel and throws off its outer layers. Lots of amazing shapes appear that often puzzle astronomers. IC 418 has patterns that are a bit like the spirograph, a toy that could produce geometric patterns a bit like the nebula.

The oldest constellations are often rich in myths, though Lepus doesn't have many. I like the story from classical author Hyginus (64 BC – 17 AD) included in Ian Ridpath's Star Tales.

A man who lived on the island of Leros brought a pregnant hare to the island. People really took to this novelty and set about raising hares. They obviously didn't know how fast these animals reproduced. But after a time, there were so many hares that they ate up the crops and left the people hungry. Then the people got rid of all the hares. And I would say they were lucky, since this isn't an easy task! Having finished the job, “they put the image of the hare among the stars as a reminder that one can easily end up with too much of a good thing.”

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