Week of March 4-10, 2018
The Northern Hemisphere wintertime sky features some of the brightest stars and largest constellations of the year: Orion, Taurus, Gemini, Auriga and many more.
What a great time to begin a hobby of stargazing! All you need is a reasonably dark sky away from city lights, warm clothing and a vivid imagination, and you're all set.
Even beginners can link the brightest stars of the early evening sky into one of the largest and easiest to find geometrical shapes in the heavens: the Winter Oval. This is outlined by seven of the brightest stars in all the heavens, and spreads over six constellations. This year, the giant planet Jupiter joins the bunch to create an even more dazzling display.
With such a brilliant starry sky above us, it's easy to forget about some of the tiniest and faintest celestial groupings, but this is a good time to try to find them, too. One of the more obscure constellations that Northern Hemisphere stargazers can see during winter months is Lepus, the hare: wit can be found south of brilliant Orion, the hunter, and just west of the dazzling "dog star" Sirius.
Lepus is a faint and ancient constellation and, like so many others in our sky, its true origins are lost in time. Not surprisingly, however, some fascinating tales have been passed down through the ages.
One tells that Lepus may be connected to the legend of the Easter Bunny. It is said that when the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of Spring changed a bird into a hare, she took away its ability to fly but, in return, gave it great speed and, once a year, allowed it to lay eggs.
Another story tells that Lepus was commonly believed to be the prey of Orion, but one must wonder why such a formidable hunter — accompanied by two great hunting dogs (Canis Major and Canis Minor) along with a great bull in front of him — would bother chasing a measly rabbit... unless, of course, the hunter is actually Elmer Fudd!
Even more interesting is the story that, in ancient times, there were no hares on the island of Leros. A young boy of that city brought a pregnant female hare from abroad and took great care of it until it gave birth. Soon, townspeople became quite interested themselves, and began raising hares, as well.
As you can imagine, it wasn't long before the island was completely overrun with hares. Hoping to combat the situation, their masters stopped feeding them, but soon the hares attacked the crops and consumed everything in sight. Now the inhabitants of the island were facing a true calamity, so they banded together and eventually managed to drive the hares from the island.
It was after this that the image of a hare was placed among the stars — so says the story — to remind people that nothing in life is so desirable that it does not entail greater pain than pleasure in the aftermath.
Whether or not you believe the story's moral, the constellation is there to this day for all to see, so head out on the next clear night to check it out!
(SET PHOTO) dem030118adAP.jpg (END IMAGE) (SET CAPTION) Use this dark wintertime sky to get a look at Lepus after dark. (END CAPTION)
Visit Dennis Mammana at www.dennismammana.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.