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Canis Major

January 9, 2016

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. It climbs into good view in the southeast by about 9 o’clock, with most of the other bright stars of the big dog below it.

Canis Major is one of those rare star patterns in which you can visualize 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 have dark skies and you give it a close look, you should be able to make out a pattern that resembles an 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 dog 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 southeast in mid-evening, or higher in the south at midnight. It outshines all the other stars, so it’s easy to find. It twinkles fiercely, especially when it’s low in the sky.

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.

We’ll have more about Sirius tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2004, 2011, 2015

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