All About Canis Major Constellation
Branching out from the 12 zodiac constellations, the Canis Major was included in 48 Greek Constellations which were first noted by Ptolemy in his Almagest all the way back in 2nd century CE! Canis Major translates to 'Greater Dog' in Latin.
The modern version of the 48 Greek Constellations is not the same as they were listed before by Ptolemy due to the constellations changing a great deal over time. However, the Almagest is still the most detailed and comprehensive ancient astronomical piece of writing that survived. It served as an important guide for European and Arabic astronomers until the 17th century. That was a very long time!
Canis Major is the 43rd major constellation in the sky and belongs to the Orion family of constellations. Other Orion family constellations include Canis Minor, , Monoceros, Lepus and Orion. Adding to this, its neighboring constellations are Columba, Lepus, Monoceros, and Puppis.
Canis Major Location
This constellation is described as a dog standing on its posterior legs, following a hare which Lepus constellation represents.
Canis Major is found on the southern celestial hemisphere during summers from November to April and in northern hemisphere winters from January to March. Even notable constellations like Orion are located to its northeast, Lepus to its east, and Canis Minor to its north. More so than that, even the Milky Way passes through it. This constellation is the seventh most famous constellation which is also visible to the naked eye in the Northern Hemisphere.
By Till Credner - Own work: AlltheSky.com
Notable Stars in the Canis Major Constellation
The sky's brightest and other major stars make up the Canis Major constellation including Sirius, Adhara, Wezen and Mirzam.
Did you know that Sirius is not only the shiniest star in this constellation but is also the brightest celestial body in the whole sky? Also identified as “the Dog Star”, Sirius is just 8.6 light-years away from the earth. It is derived from a Greek word meaning 'glowing' or 'scorching'. Sirius is known to be 20x brighter compared to our sun. Not only this, Sirius is even bigger and hotter than the sun!
The second major star in Canis Major is Adhara, derived from Arabic meaning virgins, has a magnitude of +1.5 and is located below Sirius forming dog’s posterior legs. It's further away than Sirius, having a distance of almost four hundred and twenty-five light-years. However, it emits light that is around 1000x more visible than Sirius, so its distance doesn't put it at any disadvantage. It's a double star as it consists of a bright blue-white star and a smaller, much fainter star. Another interesting fact about Adhara is that it releases more ultraviolet light compared to visible light. Therefore, since our eyes are not tuned to ultraviolet, it's not the brightest one in the sky.
Wezen has a distance of about 1,792 light-years from earth with a magnitude of +1.83. It marks the front feet of the dog in the constellation. One of the most impressive things about Wezen is that since 1943 it has served as one of the anchor points through which other stars are classified.
Being an Arabic for heralding, it is counted as the 48th brightest star in the sky, Mirzam has an apparent magnitude of +1.98 and forms the front feet of the dog. It is also located 499 light-years away from earth.
This star marks the tail of the dog in Canis Minor with an apparent magnitude of +2.45 and is 3,198 light-years away from earth. Aludra is known to be the 87th brightest star in the sky.
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Messier Objects of Canis Major
Another interesting feature of the Canis Major is Messier 41, which is a cluster of about 100 stars with an apparent magnitude of 4.5. It's visible to the unaided eye as a faint smudge of light below Sirius as its 2300 light-years away.
Canis Major Greek Myths
Ptolemy introduced the Canis Major constellation, but many had known about it even long before that as it has been associated with the Greek Mythology in several instances.
Canis Major holds great importance in the Greek Mythology as it's represented as the dog Laelaps which was a gift from the God of Thunder, Zeus, to Europa, a princess of Tyre. This dog was said to catch whatever it hunted. One of its myths is that Laelaps was sent to hunt a fox called Teumessian that could never be hunted. However, Zeus realised that they were stuck in an endless cycle of hunting and being hunted, he turned both of them into stones and into the sky as constellations which we know as Canis Major (Laelaps) and Canis Minor (Teumessian) which is translated to 'Lesser Dog', as a way of granting them heaven. Even now this endless loop is said to continue in the sky as the Canis Minor rises an hour before Canis Major in the winter skies.
Hunting Dog of Orion
In some myths, some other dogs such as Orion's hunting dogs, who was a giant huntsman and was also placed as a constellation in the sky by Zeus or Artemis, represent Canis Major. It was described by Manilius as the dog with a blazing face due to Sirius being located at its jaw. It was also said that Canis Major represented other dogs such as one of Actaeon hounds, who was a Boeotian hunter and hero and son of Aristaeus and Autonoë.
So it can be clearly seen that regardless of centuries passing by since its discovery, Canis Major holds a lot of importance in the world of Astronomy and Greek mythology and is therefore considered one of the most important constellations to exist.