Ah, the night sky, a magical spectacle of twinkling lights, animal sacrifice and inebriation. Er… did we say animal sacrifice?
Here are five cool facts about dog constellations you probably didn’t know:
1. Constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog
The brightest star in the night sky is Sirius, aka the Dog Star, and it belongs to the constellation Canis Major. It is one of the closest stars to the Earth.
There are many tales associated with Canis Major, commonly known as one of a pair of dogs helping Orion the Hunter to pursue Taurus the Bull. Canis Major is also depicted as chasing the hare Lepus across the sky.
An alternative story depicts Canis Major as Laelaps, the fastest dog that ever lived. Laelaps was a gift from Zeus to Europa along with a magical javelin that never missed.
One day Laelaps began chasing a fox who was fated never to be caught. They raced until Zeus put a stop to the madness by turning them both to stone. He placed Laelaps in the sky as Canis Major and a ‘star’ was born.
2. Constellation Canis Minor, the Lesser Dog
Composed of just two stars, Canis Minor is most famously known as the second of Orion’s two faithful dogs. Its large star, Procyon, is the seventh brightest in the sky. Procyon means “before the dog” because in the Northern Hemisphere it rises about 20 minutes before Sirius.
In one myth, Procyon took the form of Maera, the family dog of Icarius. Icarius was a vintner who learned to make wine from the gods. Upon giving some peasants their first taste of alcohol, they promptly killed him assuming they’d been poisoned.
Maera led Icarius’ daughter to his body. Overcome with grief, both the dog and the girl died of suicide. The woman hung herself, while Maera leapt to her death. Zeus placed them both in the sky: the daughter as Virgo and Maera as Procyon.
3. Sirius, Procyon and the Sisters
Because Sirius and Procyon appear on opposite sides of the Milky Way, an alternate Arabic legend tells that the stars are two sisters who were separated by the great Sky River.
Both of the sisters tried to cross the river but only the stronger sister, the brighter Sirius, managed it. The weaker sister, Procyon, remained behind weeping, where we see her to this day.
4. Constellation Canes Venatici
Canes Venatici, aka The Hunting Dogs, belong to Boötes the Herdsman, a nearby constellation. Together, they chase the Great Bear, Ursa Major, around the North Pole.
The constellation didn’t start out as two dogs. In the Greek myth, Boötes wields a “club,” but an Arabic translator changed this to “spearshaft with a hook.” Then a Latin translator mistook the Arabic “kullāb” (hook) for “kilāb” (dogs). By the Middle Ages, Boötes had scored two permanent assistants.
By 1687, the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius officially defined the constellation. He decided to name the dogs Asterion, aka Little Star, and Chara, aka Joy. Bonus: Boötes got to keep his big stick. No word on whether or not the dogs got to keep their balls. (Get it? GET IT?)
5. Constellation Lupus, The Wolf
Our last constellation, Lupus, began as a mythological Babylonian Wild Dog and only later became a wolf. Lupus is forever doomed to be sacrificed by the nearby Centaur on the Ara, or Altar, constellation right below it.
In China, the Lupus constellation was known as Qiguan, or the Emperor’s guardsmen. Because of the large number of stars in this area it often looks like troops amassing for battle or an upside-down dog.
Now you and your dog can look up at the night sky together and… no wait, you can’t. Your dog doesn’t care about the stars – at least not until someone invents a bacon constellation.