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star chart of Canis Major with Sirius named
figure 1  

 

Dog Star. The nickname of Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, save Sol (the one which the Earth orbits). It is found in the constellation Canis Majoris (the Big Dog) and has an apparent magnitude of -1.46. Sometimes referred to as Orion's Hound, drawn from the Illiad.

Sirius (pronounced like serious) is a corruption of Osirus, the name of an Egyptian god with a head that had some doglike qualities. This is a genuinely deified dog, and therefore one of the few positive connotations of the word “dog.”

In August, the Dog Star rises and sets with the sun, and this event has been associated with the arrival of summer heat. I guess some folks thought that all that extra light had a warming effect. These days, we are creating our own warming effect that tends to obscure the brightness of even this star. Nonetheless, we have a remnant of this belief in the term “dog days of summer.”reference 1

1. Whitney, William Dwight and Benjamin E. Smith. 1914. The Century dictionary and cyclopedia; with a new atlas of the world. New York: Century Co. Accessed from: http:// www.global-language.com/ century/

Dogon star chart of Sirius system
figure 2  
There is another story associated with this star that is somewhat tangential. However, since it is a story about the “ancient Dogon religion of Mali”reference 2 and said religion's name has the doggone sound dôg in it, let us proceed. It seems that in the middle of the last century, an astronomer, one Marcel Griaule, converted to Dogonism. It seems further that a part of the centuries-old dogma of Dogon, is the belief that the Dog Star has a very heavy companion made up of a substance unknown on earth. Lo and behold, a few years later someone proved that something like this is indeed correct: Sirius is actually a part of a binary system and has a dwarf companion, invisible to the eye—or even telescopes—until fairly recently.reference 3 Most people ask how the Dogon could possibly have known this. Me, I ask why they cared. This part seems to have been lost to those who are focused on proving that the scientific method (and by extension the Enlightenment Project) is always a day late and a dollar more expensive.

2. Chennai Interactive Business Services. 2001. The Sirius/Dog Star Mystery. Channai. ChennaiOnline. Accessed Aug 26 2001 from http:// www.chennaionline.com/ science/ dogstar.asp.

3. Crystal, Ellie. 2001. Dogon Theory of Creation. Crystalinks. Accessed Nov 1 2001 from http:// www.crystalinks.com/ dogon2.html
By the way, the unfamiliar substance part remains an official mystery—until someone goes and checks it out.  
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About the illustrations: Figure 1 is your basic Western star chart, showing different sized white dots on a black background to represent stars. The different sizes correspond to the apparent brightness of the stars light from earth, a quality called “magnitude.” The white dots represent stars that are a part of the constellation Canis Major and are connected by lines. While the dots have some direct correspondence to the stars you would see if you looked through a telescope, the lines are as arbitrary as the grouping of these stars into a constellation. Illustration by the author.

Different cultures and different eras have many different ways for grouping stars. Figure 2 is a reproduction of a Dogon sand drawing of the complete Sirius system.reference 4 This work is copyrighted and unlicensed. I believe that the use of this work in the article “dog star” to illustrate the subject in question where no free equivalent is available or could be created that would adequately give the same information qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.

4. Ridpath, Ian. 1978. Investigating the Sirius “Mystery”. The Skeptical Inquirer 3 (1). Accessed Feb 11 2008 from http:// csicop.org/ si/ 7809/ sirius.html.

 

see also: dog days; dog day cicada
cf: big dog ; little dog
Last updated: July 24, 2009
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