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The wild hare of winter

All winter long, stargazers have been rewarded by the bright stars and constellations of what some call the winter hexagon, the winter circle, the winter oval, or whatever. I call it "Orion and His Gang" because the constellations that surround the great hunter with a belt of three bright stars are nearly as dazzling as Orion himself.

There’s Gemini the Twins, Auriga the Chariot Driver, Taurus the Bull, and Canis Major and Minor, the Big and Little Doggies of the winter celestial theater.

One member of Orion’s gang that lacks celestial luster is just under the foot of the Hunter, the constellation Lepus the Rabbit.

To see even half of the faint stars of Lepus, you have to be out in the countryside, away from city lights.

In mythology, Lepus the Rabbit is a fun little story. It reminds me of the old Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd cartoons.

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Just like Elmer, Orion was a pretty good hunter. Orion could hunt down any beast on his island, no matter how large or ferocious it was. But, just like Elmer Fudd, there was one beast that constantly eluded the mighty hermit hunter. It’s Orion’s version of Bugs Bunny, Lepus the Rabbit.

Not only was Lepus a normal pesky rabbit that ate everything in Orion’s garden, he constantly taunted and teased Orion during his hunting adventures. Orion wanted desperately to exterminate this nasty little hare, but just like Bugs Bunny, Lepus was just too clever and fast.

Orion never got to realize his dream of eliminating Lepus because Orion himself was done in by Zeus, the king of the gods of Mount Olympus. Zeus found out that Orion was pursuing his daughter Artemis, the goddess of the moon.

Actually it was Artemis who pursued Orion. She deserted her task of guiding the moon across the night sky.

As the story goes, it was Artemis' duty to guide a team of flying horses that towed a giant flatbed chariot with the moon strapped on to it. On a nightly basis, she stopped the horses in mid-flight to meet with Orion.

Zeus did not approve. He sent a giant scorpion to attack Orion during his daytime slumber. There was a tumultuous battle between the combatants, but alas, the giant scorpion fatally bit Orion.

When Artemis discovered Orion after the battle, she lifted his body into the heavens and magically transfigured it into the constellation we see in the winter sky. She wanted to be able to see him every night as she guided the moon across the sky.

She also placed his hunting dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor, up there with him, along with that pesky little rabbit, Lepus.

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