A pair of hunting dogs races high overhead tonight. The hounds are pursuing Ursa Major, the great bear, which stands to their north. You'll recognize the bear because it contains the stars of the Big Dipper. The dogs are held in leash by Bootes, the herdsman.
The dogs form the constellation Canes Venatici. Unlike Ursa Major and Bootes, which are ancient, the hunting dogs are fairly recent. Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius drew the constellation in the 17th century to fill in some gaps between more prominent star patterns.
As a result, Canes Venatici is small and faint. You need fairly dark skies to see its stars, and a great imagination to picture a pair of hounds. The constellation's three brightest stars form a wide-spread V-shape, with its point aiming south.
Its brightest star is known as the "heart of Charles." Astronomer Edmond Halley named it for England's King Charles the Second. Binoculars or a telescope reveal two stars. The brighter of the two is hotter and brighter than our own Sun, and it's the star that's visible to our eyes alone.
Canes Venatici's next-brightest star is Chara, and it's similar to the Sun. It's about the same color, temperature, and brightness. It looks almost exactly like the Sun would appear if we could view it from the same distance as Chara -- about 30 light-years.
Look carefully for the faint stars of Canes Venatici, hovering near the Big Dipper. We'll have more about the Dipper tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2001, 2004, 2008
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