Dog Days
Michael Ellis

The Farmers Almanac tells us that the so-called Dog Days of summer occur between July 3 and August 11. They are now upon us. So is it called that because dogs are lying around, out in the yard in the hot sun with their tongues hanging out? Do dogs actually go crazy or rabid more frequently right now? Nope, that’s not it.

So what’s up with this dog day stuff? Well the term actually comes from the fact that the constellation Canis major, that is the Big Dog, rises shortly after the sun does and chases it doggedly across the sky. Canis major is visible to us in the western sky for a little while after sunset. The prominent star in the constellation is the Dog Star or Sirius, which is Greek for sparkling or scorching. The Romans believed that this star was responsible for the hot, trying days of midsummer and that it and the sun exerted an evil influence on the health of those exposed to its burning rays. Roman farmers used to sacrifice a fawn-colored dog on behalf of the vitality of the crops. I guess the Dog Days were any fun for people or dogs. But on the contrary the ancient Egyptians worshipped Sirius as their most sacred star. It was known as Sothis and the goddess Isis was personified in that star. When the Egyptians saw Sothis rising in the dawn sky they knew that it was time for the Nile to flood and bring fertility and productivity to the land. Yippee the dog Days are here.

Sirius is the brightest star in both the northern and the southern hemisphere, 30 times brighter than the north star. It can be seen at one season or another from every part of the inhabited earth. It appears so bright to us not because it is a big star but because it is only 8 1/2 light years away. It’s our third closest neighbor one we could borrow a cup of sugar from. But here in the Bay area under the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean we don’t really experience the full force of Canis major. As oft quoted Mark Twain once said the coldest dog day he ever spent was…. well never mind.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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Posted on

November 19, 2010