canis major

Canis Major

By Jake Riley, SR Senior Editor

Fun Facts

1. Canis Major means ‘the greater dog’ in Latin
2. Of the two dogs following the Orion constellation; Canis Major is the larger one
3. Hosts Sirius, which is the brightest star in the sky
4. The constellation belongs to the Orion group of constellations
5. Notable deep sky objects such as the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy, the open cluster Messier 41, and the colliding spiral galaxies NGC 2207 & IC 2163 exist within its confines

An overview

The constellation of Canis Major makes up a large dog pursuing a hare, with the latter represented by the constellation of Lepus; there is also a smaller dog in this depiction, which is represented by the constellation of Canis Minor. The constellation consists of 8 main stars, with the brightest being Sirius, the brightest star in the earth’s night sky.

The constellation is one of the ancient constellations catalogued by Ptolemy, and is visible in both the northern and southern hemispheres, from the months of December to March in the former, and between November and April in the latter.

The myth

In mythology, Canis Major is often associated with Laelaps, the fastest dog in the world which was destined to eventually catch anything it ever pursues. Zeus had given Laelaps to Europa as a gift, along with a javelin that would never miss its target.

However, the gift proved to be one that was unfortunate, as Europa herself was accidentally killed by her husband, Cephalus, who went out hunting with the magical javelin. On that trip, Cephalus had taken Laelaps to Thebes in Boetia to hunt down a trouble-making fox. The fox was no ordinary one, for it was extremely fast, and as Laelaps is destined to catch anything it ever pursues, the fox was destined to never be caught.

The race between the dog and the fox was never-ending, and Zeus himself grew sick of it and finally ended their chase by turning both animals to stone. He then decided that Laelaps deserved to be immortalized amidst the stars, and thus placed him accordingly in the night sky alongside the great hunter, Orion, thereby birthing the constellation of Canis Major.

The constellation

The constellation of Canis Major is situated in the southern sky’s first quadrant, and is visible between latitudes -90 to +60 degrees. It neighbors the constellations of Columba, Lepus, Monoceros, and Puppis.

Of the 8 main stars it consists, there exists four celestial bodies of note: Sirius, the brightest of the constellation and of the earth’s night sky; Adhara, the second brightest of the constellation and the 24th brightest in the entirety of the earth’s night sky; Wezen, a yellow-white supergiant which is estimated to eventually become a supernova in the next 100,000 years; and Mirzam, a blue-white giant which Arabic name directly translates as ‘the herald’.

Want to learn about other constellations aside from Canis Major? Find out more about Columba or Draco. Alternatively, you can simply click here for a full list of constellations.

Frequently Asked Questions

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