Posts Tagged ‘Sirius’

Celestial Dogs

June 4, 2008

Just when you thought poor old Rita the dog must have checked out and written her last blog post, (all good things must come to an end), here is another one for you, about dogs in the sky. Yup, dogs up there in the heavens. Sometimes I think my dad is right: old dogs should keep trying to learn new tricks. Keeps them young and active and happy. Well, maybe. In any case, you can’t imagine how happy I was when I learned there were dogs up in the sky.

The biggest and brightest star in the nighttime sky is a dog named Sirius. Chances are that radio outfit knew that when they picked their name. Dog breath is a powerful thing, and they broadcast from the sky. Just kidding. Anyway, almost 2000 years ago, back when gnostics were babes trying to figure it out, there was this guy named Ptolemy. His real name was Κλαύδιος Πτολεμαῖος, but folks these days mostly just say (those that say it at all) Ptolemy. He had a Roman first name but he was a Greek who lived in Alexandria, which is in Africa. More importantly he wrote the bible of astronomy. And it was the bible for a 1000 years. Hundreds of years later the Arabs translated this ‘bible of astronomy’ into Arabic and called it the Almagest (transliteration of الكتاب المجسطي) and hundreds more years later when it was finally translated from Arabic to Latin, so smart folks in Europe could learn it, the name Almagest stuck. True, it was epicycular but that didn’t matter, it explained the motions of the stars and planets and how to predict elcipses. It named and accurately tabulated the location and brightness of over 1000 stars. Back when sines were chords it explained how to calculate distances and angles on spheres. My dad said today we call that spherical trigonometry. Here’s the deal: Ptolemy said Sirius was red! That’s right, the brightest star in the nighttime sky, a red dog like me! That is truly wonderful. But it is also a puzzle because Sirius is not red.

Sirius, the bright red dog in the sky, told the ancient Egyptians when to plant their crops, and its emanating energy caused the “dog days of summer”. Chances are you are chomping at the bit to find out how Sirius, that big red dog got up there in the sky. Well, there are lots of stories but apparently thousands of years ago there was this hunter named Orion who had two dogs. And, by the bye, Zeus, he was the king of all the gods, said enough is enough and elevated them all to immortal status as constellations in the night sky. Orion became the constellation Orion, and you can still see his belt and his sword, and the middle star in his sword is fuzzy because it’s not a star, it’s a nebula. My dad tells me stuff like that which drives me crazy because then I can’t get it out of my head. I’ve definitely got bigger fish to fry. Me and the interlopers went on a walk with my mom and dad and they bought trout at this place in the country and my mom fried them up and I got to lick the plates. That was a good day, and for just a little while I forgot about the Orion nebula.

Up there in the sky, near Orion are his two dogs. The big one is called canis major. Here is how that dog looks in an old map of the heavens:

Canis Major

Canis Major (big dog)

Look carefully and you will see that Sirius, the dog star, is his nose. More modern folks say it looks like this:

Canis Major (blue)

Canis Major (blue)(big) ©Dorling Kindersley

What’s going on here? Sirius, the dog star, is now the big dog’s chest. It moved! What do I know? I’m just a dog. Anyway, facts are fuzzy. Be sure to give Dorling Kindersley some money if you want to download this image. But why would you? I know, because it proves not all blue dogs are in Louisiana. (Private joke, you have to read comments).

Orion’s smaller dog is up there in the sky too. It looks like this:

Canis Minor

Canis Minor (Orion’s smaller dog)

By now you probably wish I had checked out, but surely you would like to know that there are two more dogs in the night sky and their names are Chara and Asterion. These two were the dogs of Boötes, the herdsman, and there are many stories about all this, which you will have to investigate on your own. Somehow they all ended up in the night sky as, the constellation Boötes, and the constellation Canes Venatici, which is Latin for ‘hunting dogs’. Here is how they looked on an ancient star map:

Canes Venatici

Canes Venatici (Boötes’ hunting dogs)

And here is how they looked to Erert Bode in 1782:

Boötes flees from the chariot--Erert Bode--1782

Boötes flees from the chariot–Erert Bode–1782 (bigger)

Hey, what’s going on here? Everything seems to be facing in the opposite direction! Maybe there is strength in numbers, since Aspin in 1825 agrees with Erert Bode, as you can see here:

Boötes--Aspin--1825

Boötes–Aspin–1825 (big)

By now you know me. I saved the best for last. How could it get any better than a giant dog-bone in the sky? I kid you not. It’s for real. I can’t wait till my turn comes to join those immortal dogs in the sky. Would I ever like to chomp on this:

Dog bone in the sky

The giant dog bone in the sky (big)

That last image came from NASA as the astronomy picture of the day for May 10, 2000. It is as big as New Jersey and I know it will be there waiting for me when the time comes. Click here if you want to know more about it.

As always, your faithful friend,

Rita the dog