Lepus

StarDate: February 14, 2009

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If you doubt the adage that it's possible to have too much of a good thing, consider Lepus, the rabbit -- a constellation that hops along beneath the feet of Orion, the hunter, on February evenings.

There are many legends associated with Lepus. One of them comes from ancient Greece.

The story says that the people of a Greek island began breeding rabbits for meat and furs. But the rabbits multiplied like -- well, like rabbits. They overran the island, eating the crops and leaving the people near starvation. After a lengthy campaign, the people finally got rid of the bunnies. But they placed one of them in the heavens to remind them that you can have too much of a good thing.

Lepus's brightest star is Arneb -- a giant star that's about 1300 light-years away. If it took the Sun's place in our own solar system, it would extend about halfway out to Mercury.

But that's nothing compared to another star in Lepus -- Hind's Crimson Star. It's one of the reddest stars in the night sky -- a result of carbon in its outer layers and in a shell that surrounds the star. Because of that shell and the star's distance, it's too faint to see with the unaided eye. But it's one of the biggest stars around. If it took the Sun's place, it would extend all the way out to the asteroid belt, swallowing up the four innermost planets -- including Earth.

Look for Lepus below brilliant Orion, which is well up in the south by mid-evening.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008

For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.

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