The Big Dog

StarDate: March 25, 2011

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The brightest star in the night sky has some teeth to it. It's the Dog Star, Sirius -- part of the constellation Canis Major, the big dog. Sirius is well up in the south at nightfall, with most of the other bright stars of Canis Major stretching below it.

Canis Major is one of those rare star patterns in which you can actually see what the constellation is supposed to represent. It's not as easy to pick out as the scorpion of Scorpius, or even the lion of Leo. But if you look carefully, you should be able to make out a pattern that does resemble a four-legged animal.

The constellation represents one of the hunting dogs of Orion, which is to the upper right of Canis Major during the evening hours. The other is Canis Minor. Both dogs seem to trail their master across the sky.

One interesting sight in Canis Major is a star cluster known as M41. It's visible to the unaided eye as a faint smudge of light below Sirius. Binoculars or a small telescope reveal a swarm of several dozen stars. They're all about 2300 light-years away.

To find the big dog, look for Sirius in the south as darkness falls, and in the southwest later on. It outshines all the other stars in the night sky, so it's easy to find. It twinkles fiercely, especially when it's low in the sky, blinking from red to green to pure white.

Sirius represents the front of the dog's body. One of his forelegs stretches to the right, with his body and his hind legs below.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2004, 2011

 

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