Blue Planet Project

January Sky School

This time, we'll go hunting rabbit. Hunting rabbit is what Orion was doing when he was attacked and killed by the Scorpion, and the rabbit (actually the Hare, Lepus) is still at his feet.

This pretty little constellation is easy to pick out. It has a compact shape that looks like a crouching hare, and the stars in its head are brighter than surrounding stars. Both these factors will help you recognize it, but the most important feature is its location - it has neighbours that are hard to miss. Lepus is just below Orion and just to the right (west) of the Big Dog (Canus Major) with its bright star, Sirius. This entire group is in the South on winter evenings. Once you locate the general area for Lepus, tilt your head a little bit to the right and you should be able to pick out the head and the front of the body. The nether regions are a bit dim, as are the ears.

Sirius is the brightest star in the sky; it's also one of the nearest. Besides helping you find Lepus, Sirius will help you locate the open cluster M41, which is very pretty despite not having a more colourful name. When Canus Major is due South, M41 is straight toward the horizon from Sirius, as shown on my map. Good binoculars or a telescope will be necessary.

While you're in the area, have another look at M42, the famous Orion Nebula. It's actually two Messier objects in one, both bright nebulae separated by a dark obscuring band of dust. M42 is below the dust band, and has the Trapezium stars. The smaller nebula above the dust band is M43.

So there you have it - a hare hiding in plain sight, usually unnoticed among its better-known neighbours. When you go out observing, keep warm - maybe you could try a rabbit-fur hat?