This Week’s Sky at a Glance, January 13 – January 20

With Orion’s hourglass figure now above the horizon after sunset, the giant hunter waits an hour or so for his two dogs to get up before he starts hunting. The first to greet the night is Canis Minor the Little Dog, a small constellation highlighted by Procyon, the eighth brightest star. To identify this star, Orion’s head and shoulders form an arrowhead, with orange Betelgeuse at the apex, which points toward Procyon. Like Sirius in Canis Major, this star is bright because it is in our celestial backyard, about 11 light years away.

The name Procyon means “before the dog,” indicating it is a harbinger of Sirius the Dog Star which rises about 40 minutes later. Ancient Egyptian farmers watched for the first visible rising of Sirius before sunrise, as experience had taught them the Nile would soon flood its banks with fertile soil when this occurred. In mythology the two dogs are sometimes depicted as Laelaps (Canis Major), an extremely fast dog and an equally fast fox. The dog was sent to hunt the fox but, after a long chase with no apparent end, Zeus turned them both to stone and placed them in the sky.

I like to look at the dogs and their westerly neighbours, Orion the Hunter and Lepus the Hare, in a more modern sense. The mighty demigod Orion becomes everyone’s favourite hunter, Elmer Fudd, with that wascawwy wabbit bugging him below his feet. Although not related directly to Bugs Bunny cartoons, the big and little dogs become Spike and Chester. Just as Chester would bounce around in front of his hero, the bulldog Spike, Canis Minor bounces up before Canis Major.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:58 am and sunset will occur at 4:57 pm, giving 8 hours, 59 minutes of daylight (8:00 am and 5:05 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:54 am and set at 5:07 pm, giving 9 hours, 13 minutes of daylight (7:56 am and 5:14 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Tuesday and, with binoculars and some weather luck, the old crescent might be seen near Mercury and Saturn on the morning before. Those two planets are closest together this weekend. Also on Monday morning, Mars is a binocular-width to the lower left of Jupiter. Having passed Jupiter last weekend, Mars sets its sights on a rendezvous with Saturn in early April.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason at nasonc@nbnet.nb.ca.