Back to: Weekend Sky Report
February 21, 2020
Every good hunter needs support. Orion and his two dogs have reigned the evening sky in the winter since before human civilization. One of the earliest representations of Orion appeared in cave art dated more than 32,000 years ago.
Orion’s easy to spot—just look for the three stars that make up his belt. But the dogs are easy to find too. First you need to find the Winter Triangle. It’s a large, almost perfect equilateral triangle of bright stars that are prominent in Winter’s evening sky. It’s made up of Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, Procyon, another bright star, and one that used to be a lot brighter… Orion’s right shoulder, Betelgeuse.
Since around Christmastime last year, Betelgeuse dimmed dramatically, leading some to believe it may go supernova, though that’s not likely. Recent observations show the more likely culprit is an ejecting of its outermost gas layers, which is obscuring its brighter core.
Those other two stars in the winter triangle make up the brightest stars in the two dog constellations—Procyon in Canis Minor, the lesser dog; and Sirius in Canis Major, the greater dog. Sirius is also known as the dog star for that reason. Ever heard the term “dog days of summer?” 6 months from now, when Sirius is in the opposite part of the sky, it rises just before the sun—leading the ancient Greeks to believe that its brightness helped the sun warm the Earth. Sirius outshines the other stars in Canis Major by a longshot, but a star chart will help you find them. Canis minor only consists of two main stars—Procyon and Gomeisa, which is much dimmer, but still visible to the naked eye.