Heads up, dog lovers! This is a great time of year to view the brightest star in the sky, and the dog constellation it’s part of. And there’s a bonus, too: Is it a stick constellation? Read on and find out.
If you love dogs on earth, you’ll want to head outside around 6 p.m. in the US and look low in the southeastern sky. A little below Orion you’ll see Sirius, aka “the dog star,” which will appear even more dazzling and brilliant than usual, because of its low position on the horizon. In fact, if you think it’s a UFO, you won’t be alone.
“When the star is at such a low position in the sky, the thicker layer of air nearest the horizon causes its light to scintillate rapidly, causing it to seem to flicker with all the colors of the rainbow,” explains a fun article in Space.com. “Ironically, this is when Sirius seems to attract the most attention; people call their local planetariums inquiring about ‘that strange and colorful UFO that was dancing above the east-southeast horizon.’ “
Sirius is part of the constellation Canis Major, or Greater Dog. You have to use some imagination to see a dog out of its stars, but its there.
(And no, the pointy things are not its ears. It seems they’re more his hindquarters.)
But what about this stick I mentioned earlier? If you’ll look at the upper left area of the image at the top of this post, you’ll see a straight line that seems to be a stick. But is it a stick? No, it is not a stick! It is a dog! That’s Canis Minor, or Lesser Dog. You’ll see a closeup of him (her? Hard to tell.) to the left. You can see why he has the title of “lesser.”
If you thought Canis Major didn’t look much like a dog, you’ll be hard-pressed to see a dog in this line segment. A hot dog maybe, but not a real dog. As my daughter said, “people must have had very big imaginations back when they were naming constellations.”
And that, dear Dogster readers, is your astronomy lesson of 2011. It’s my birthday week, so I figured a little stargazing was in order.