Monday, February 28, 2011

Lepus the Hare and Columba the Dove

Below Orion's Feet
This week I'll focus on two fainter constellations that creep low across the southern sky in winter.  The easier one to see is Lepus the Hare who scampers from southeast to southwest below Orion's feet.  Although there is almost no mythology behind this constellation, it dates back to the original 48 star shapes documented by Ptolemy in 150A.D.  It's easy to make out the body of the rabbit - four fairly bright stars mark his body - and with a little imagination you might be able to visualize his front paws jutting out to the right with his ears streaming back to the left. 

The Bunny Rabbit
Lepus' position (below the much brighter Orion) led the Arabs to call this the "Throne of the Central One" (meaning Orion's platform.  Another legend calls the four brightest stars four camels drinking from the nearby river (the constellation Eridanus).  And to the Egyptians it was the boat of their main god/dude Osiris.

Moses' Dove
Below Lepus is a fainter constellation: Columba the Dove.  From Cincinnati, you really can only see Columba in the winter evenings since it barely clears the southern horizon.  If you live farther south (like in Florida), you'll have a better view.  Legend has it that Columba is the starry representation of the dove Moses sent out in search of land during the great flood.  It came back to the ark bearing an olive branch - a sure sign that dry land wasn't far.  Columba first appeared on star charts around 1600 to fill in the space below Orion and below the Hare.

Try to find these small constellations low in the southern sky before they move out for Spring.