The constellation Hare (Lepus - Lep)

How many times have we looked towards Orion and immediately afterwards towards Sirius, following the three stars of the famous Belt: in the middle of these lights of the night there is also the Hare, there, just below the hunter's feet and immediately to the right of the brightest star in the sky. Impossible not to notice that small group of stars between the 2nd and 4th magnitude, which all in all could still be visible in the city skies.

The name, the story and the myth of the Hare...

The constellation of the Hare is small and, being just below Orion, very ancient because it is visible.

Quite characteristic in shape, however, it is blurred by its hunter, whose hound, the Greater Dog, is immediately to the east in the act of jumping on its prey.

In fact, mythology has it that a man brought a hare to the island of Laro with the intent to start breeding this animal on the island itself.

The hare, however, began to reproduce in a very short time leading to a spread throughout the island, devastating crops and causing famine.

The inhabitants managed to kill all the hares but as a warning of the mistake made the animal was placed in the sky right under Orion's feet. Among other things, it seems that the hunter Orion had a passion for hare hunting, so the fact of having placed this small but recognizable constellation under the feet of the giant (south of Saiph and Rigel) can be linked to this mythological nuance.

The Arabs first saw in these stars the throne of Orion, later they adopted the interpretation of the Greeks. D'Arcy Thompson, ornithologist of the 19th century, explains the position of the constellation with the legend according to which hares hate the sound of crows, which is partly reflected in the rising and setting of the stars: when the Crow rises, the Hare sets, hurrying underground in search of shelter. The alpha star of the constellation is Arneb, that in Arabic means "hare", instead the beta star has been called Nihal, that is "source of the water", in fact already Arabs saw sometimes the stars of the Hare as four camels that quenched their thirst in the Milky Way.

the Hare in Uranometry as well as in Hevelius' work (in the usual mirror image)

the Hare according to Hevelius

and finally in the depiction of Stellarium.

the Hare according to Stellarium

Nearby Stars

Gliese 229 A and B taken from HST

In the constellation there are three nearby stars, one under 20 al, one under 30 al and another under 60 al: we start from the nearest one, Gliese 229, also known as HIP 29295, a double star formed by a red dwarf of class M1 and a brown dwarf of class T6, both located at a distance of 18.8 al from us. In the photo beside, taken by HST, we see on the left the main star of the pair, Gliese 229 A, while more or less in the middle we see the dot representing the companion Gliese 229 B, when the space telescope, in 1995, confirmed for the first time the existence of a brown dwarf star, which had been detected the previous year. The secondary component B orbits around primary A at a distance of about 36UA, a little more than Pluto's distance from the Sun.

The position in the sky of the double is very close to the border between the Hare and the Big Dog, not far from Sirius: I dwell on this last fact because there is a curiosity inside the photo that my friends Ingliesidoppi sent me. In the center of it you can see the Sun, almost of magnitude 5, in an area of the sky where there are stars of Lyra (Vega), Hercules and Eagle and not far from our yellow dwarf here appears again Sirius: how is it possible that this star appears both in the photo of Gliese 229 taken from Earth and in the photo taken in reverse?

Think about it for a second, but the answer is simple: Sirius is in the sky (considered obviously in the 3 dimensions) very close to the imaginary line that connects the Sun to Gliese 229: very close and practically halfway, since Sirius is about 9 to us. Celestia informs us that, given the geometry in play between the Sun, Sirius and Gliese 229, the distance between these two last stars is little more than 10 al and the magnitude of Sirius is therefore slightly lower than the one it has from us, but still equal to -1. Even from over there it is the brightest star in the sky, followed by well-known stars such as Canopus, Capella and Rigel.

If you got lost reading these arguments, I'll recapitulate saying that in space the three stars form a triangle whose sides are about this length: Sun-Sirus 9 al, Sun-Gliese229 19 al, Syrian-Gliese229 10 al. Astronomy can be easy or difficult depending on how we face it!

The second star for proximity, γ Lep, is actually another double star: the main one is of class F7 while the secondary component is an orange dwarf of spectral class K2 and both are at 29.2 al dal noi. My friends Gammalepti tell me that, seen by them, the Sun is practically in the same zone of sky seen before, with the same famous stars nearby, including Sirius of course.

Let's analyze now the third star for distance, η Lep, a white dwarf of spectral class F1, distant from us 49 al. My friends Etalepani sent me the photo of the sky area centered on the Sun: in the middle of the stars seen in the photo of Gliese 229 (Vega, Altair, Sirius, etc.) slightly shifted but always present, now appears also γ Lep. Here is another three-dimensional alignment game in the space between the Sun - Sirius - γ Lep - η Lep: this time we would have an elongated quadrilateral whose sides... no, this time I'll stop here, not to miss someone on the street.

Big stars

comparison diagram between the stars of the Hare and other notes

In the comparison diagram between the stars of the Hare and others known during the various episodes, we can see three stars of different coloration and therefore of different stellar class. The biggest one is (for once) the first star of the constellation, α Lep, Arneb, a yellow supergiant of class F0, of magnitude 2.55, with a diameter of 125 times that of the Sun: omitting the stellar super-monsters, it is a little less than twice the famous and prospectively close Rigel of which it is less bright because of an almost double distance. My Aleppi friends sent me a picture of their star from a distance of 10 UA, from which it appears majestic and really blinding: although they live in a much more distant planet, during the day they must always wear thick and powerful arneb glasses.

The second big star is 19 Lep, a red giant of M1 class, 92 times bigger than our Sun, while the third big star considered is the umpteenth defeat for Aldebaran: it is in fact the orange giant ε Lep, of star class K4, that with a ray equal to 43 times that of the Sun, exceeds 33 times the brightest star of Taurus.

Names of the stars

A few stars have received a designation, but of these maybe only the first two are used.

  • Arneb (α Lep): the hare
  • Nihal Lep): quenching the thirst
  • Kursi al Jabbar Lep): the giant's chair
  • Arsh al Jauza Lep): the throne of the Central
  • Sasin Lep): found on the internet


Being close to Sirius, the constellation of the Hare is well visible at our latitudes: at 9 p.m., chosen to make comfortable observations, it is low on the ESE horizon, in mid-November, culminating in the South, at the meridian, around February of the following year, when it will be at an altitude of about 30° on the horizon, and then starting to set in late April, when it will appear low on the horizon at WSW.

Now that we know its location in the sky, next to such illustrious neighbours, let's look at it and introduce it to our passionate friends!

Audio Video The constellation Hare (Lepus - Lep)
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