The moon does not rise until 11:50 p.m. tonight, giving us several hours of dark sky in the early evening.

Look directly south around 8 p.m. to see Orion the Hunter spread between 50 and 60 degrees above the horizon. To the left (east) and south of Orion is Canis Major the Greater Dog with Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. Hovering just above the southern horizon is Canopus, the second-brightest star in the sky. Just below Orion and just to the right (west) of Canis Major is Lepus the Hare.

Lepus gets little press compared to Canis Major and Orion, but, surprisingly, it is relatively bright and fairly easy to see even in light polluted skies. Lepus is composed of eight main stars, the four brightest of which look like a squished rectangle south of Rigel in Orion. Needless to say, Lepus hardly resembles the animal it is supposed to represent.

Halfway between Lepus and Canopus is a loose collection of stars, Columba the Dove. It requires a somewhat darker sky to find due to its relative dimness and low position in our sky. Unlike Lepus, which comes down to us from the ancients, Columba is a more “modern” constellation which is sometimes attributed to the Dutch astronomer Petrus Plancius (1552-1622) and which appeared in Johann Beyer’s (1572-1625) famous sky atlas Uranometria in 1603.

Lepus may have been a hare being pursued by Orion and his hunting dogs, while Columba was more or less created to fill a bit of space in the southern sky south of Lepus. It is hard to picture Columba as a dove with a sprig in its mouth. Both Lepus and Columba do have telescopic objects of great interest to astronomers.