Sirius and Canopus

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Sirius and Canopus
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Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, arcs across the south tonight. And if you live in the far southern latitudes of the United States — south of about Phoenix or Atlanta — the second-brightest star sneaks into view as well. Canopus rises about 10 p.m., and stands due south an hour or two later. It’s just a few degrees above the horizon. It’s so bright, though, that you shouldn’t have much trouble spotting it.

Canopus is the brightest star of Carina, the keel. The constellation represents the bulk of the Argo, the ship that carried Jason and the Argonauts on their adventures.

Canopus may be named for a sailor from another vessel from mythology.

According to the story, Canopus was the helmsman for Menelaus, the king of Sparta. Canopus piloted the boat on an expedition to retrieve the king’s wife, Helen of Troy. On the way back, a storm blew the boat off course, and it landed in Egypt. When Canopus went ashore, he was bitten by a cobra and died. Helen and Menelaus buried him, and Menelaus established a town there. He named both the town and a bright star that was in the sky then in the helmsman’s honor.

That star looks only about half as bright as Sirius. But that’s only because of its greater distance — it’s more than 300 light-years away, compared to nine light-years for Sirius. If you lined them up at the same distance, Canopus would shine more than 500 times brighter.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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