Dog Days of Summer

5August 2021

This weather is so hot it’s not fit for a dog! Doggon it, why when will it cool off? Those nasty, sultry days that you merely endure? This is what we call the Dog Days of Summer.

The phrase originates with the ancient Greeks when the sun is in the same sky space as the constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog, and its major star Sirius. The Romans were similar in that Sirius seems to rise and set with the sun and they believed it radiated heat to the sun to make the days so long and hot and called them “dog days”. Usually this period is defined as 20 days before and after the alignment or July 3 to 11.

A constellation is a group of stars that, when you connect the star “dots,” forms what many believe a pattern usually a mythological entity.

Canis Major

Greater Dog has its brightest star as Sirius, which appears as brilliant white with just a bit of blue tinge. According to legend, this canine easily won a race with a fox, thought to be the fastest creature, and as a reward, Zeus celebrated the victory by placing Laelaps, as he was called, in the heavens.

To locate this constellation, look for Orion. The celestial hunter has a rectangular set of four bright stars that form the torso and three stars diagonally to define the belt. Now, draw an imaginary line through the belt, down and left. That is where you will find Sirius.

Canis Minor

Little Dog has only two stars in its constellation, the brighter of which is Procyon (“Before the Dog”). It is yellow-white. Procyon rises around 20 minutes earlier than Sirius and so its name announces that the big dog star is about to appear.

There are a couple of versions of the myths surrounding this constellation one of which is that it is Maera, the dog of Icarius, the wine maker, who lost his life to confused shepherds. Overwhelmed with grief, the dog took his own life and Zeus then placed him in the sky as a reminder of the tragedy.

Canes Venatici

Hunting Dogs is another two-star constellation. The story goes that these dogs were to assist Bootes, the Bear Driver, as he stalked the Big Bear (Ursa Major, or Big Dipper) around the sky. The dogs’ names are Asterion and Chara. The brighter of the two stars is Cor Caroli, originally Cor Caroli Regis Martyris to remember the executed King Charles I of England.

In the Finger Lakes area there are quite a few places you might try for star gazing including Belhurst Castle, Canadice Lake, Cumming Nature Center, Harriet Hollister Spencer State Recreational Area, Hemlock Lake, and others.

It is not necessary to invest in a telescope, just a pretty good pair of binoculars will work. Start with the moon and then go to the various star patterns. The Big Dipper is always a popular choice. Find the patterns like triangles, curves, and lines. Sit back and enjoy the companionship of others and then plan your next outing.

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