Under the Night Sky
Come explore the constellation Leo, the Lion. Learn where to look for the constellation, some of its interesting facts, a myth or two and we’ll explore some of the beautiful deep sky objects in this constellation.
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Racoons and The Other Dog Star
When you hear “dog star” you probably think of Sirius in Canis Major, “the Big Dog.” However, there is another dog star, Procyon, in Canis Minor, “the Little Dog.” Canis Minor is the smaller of Orion’s two hunting dogs. And Procyon forms one of the vertices in the Winter Triangle asterism. It is the brightest star in Canis Minor and the eighth brightest star in the sky. Being about 11 light years from Earth, its practically in our backyard!
Procyon is a double star with a smaller, faint, white dwarf companion. The pair orbit each other once every 41 years. This faint companion is now considered a dead star. Procyon itself is nearing the end of its life. In the next 10 to 100 million years, it will become a red giant star and will end its life as a white dwarf star like its companion.
The name “Procyon” is Greek meaning “before the dog.” This comes from a time when Procyon rose before Sirius in the sky. Procyon can still be seen rising before Sirius from mid-northern latitudes, however, from the southern latitudes Sirius now rises before Procyon. This change in rising is due the Earth’s motion called precession.
“Procyon” is also the genus designation of raccoons. Early taxonomists thought the raccoon was related to such taxonomic groups as dogs, cats, badgers, and bears. In 1780 Gottlieb Storr placed the raccoon in its own genus, Procyon. Perhaps Storr had the raccoon’s nocturnal lifestyle in mind when choosing the star Procyon as the genus name for these species.
The best time to see our little dog star is from late winter through spring. By March it is high overhead during the early evening hours. Enjoy looking at Procyon and look around - maybe you’ll see a racoon too!
Image 1: Location of Procyon
Image 2: Procyon and the Winter Triangle ... See MoreSee Less
3 days ago
Tonight's Under the Night Sky focuses in on Taurus. ... See MoreSee Less