Canis Major the Top Dog Constellation
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Canis Major – The “Top Dog” Constellation

The brightest star is Sirius, the dog star.  It is appropriate that the brightest star is located in the constellation Canis Major (Top Dog!).

It is a mystery to me how the early Greeks and Romans, or maybe the stone age astronomer, were able to look at a few stars and see an animal, person or a set of book-ends.  We can do that with clouds, but very few of us today have the imagination to draw pictures using only a few stars.  But then, maybe they didn’t have much else to do at night.  Well, besides that!  And stargazing probably helped take their minds off all the bad things that prowled in the dark looking for a good meal.

What is Canis Major?

Canis Major Constellation
Till Credner – Own work: AlltheSky.com, CC BY-SA 3.0

Anyway, back to Canis Major.  There are several mythical variations of the story.  But the one I accept is that Canis Major is one Orion’s dog and helps him chase rabbits.  What dog doesn’t like to chase rabbits?  Another constellation, Canis  Minor (smaller dog) is also one of Orion’s hunting dogs.  Fancy, my Miniature Schnauzer, claims that Canis Major represents a Giant Schnauzer and Canis Minor is a Miniature Schnauzer.  Other dog breeds may agree to disagree on that.

Just how important a person do you need to be to have a constellation named for you?  Well, Orion was a great hunter and could hunt any animal known or unknown to man, gods or mother nature.  Orion could also walk on waves because his father was Poseidon, god of the seas. Mother Earth didn’t approve of Orion’s hunting skills, so she sent a scorpion to kill him.  Because Orion was such a hero, Zeus placed Orion among the constellations as a fitting memorial.  The dastardly scorpion also has a constellation, Scorpius.

What About Asterisms?

I am glad you asked about asterism (astronomy). They are similar to constellations in that they are a group of stars. I think of them as a poor man’s constellation. If you can’t make out the entire constellation, Ursa Major (big bear) for example, you can probably recognize the asterism Big Dipper which is part of the Ursa Major constellation. Some other familiar asterisms include the square of pegasus, the little dipper, and the southern cross.

Big Dipper Little Dipper Square of Pegasus Southern Cross

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