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The American Association of Amateur Astronomers

Learn the Constellations
The First Light Astronomy Kit from David Chandler Company

 Buy it Now or Find Out More

The Constellation Canis Major - The Great Dog

Mythology: Canis Major  & Minor

The Greater & Lesser Dogs always following the legendary Orion on his exciting adventures, Canis Major and Canis Minor were two of the giant's loyal hunting dogs. The Greater Dog, Canis Major, stands in the sky on his hind feet watching his master, or springing after The Hare, Lepus, which closely hides under Orion's feet. The wide stretched jaws of Canis Major sparkle with the brightest of all fixed stars, Sirius, which signifies brightness and heat. Canis Minor, The Lesser Dog, a well trained house or watch dog which accompanied Orion on his hunting trips, owes its fame in the heavens to the first magnitude star, Procyon. The expression "Dog Days of Summer" came into being because the rising of the stars Procyon and Sirius often corresponded with periods of extreme heat.

Containing Sirius, the brightest star visible on earth, the constellation of Canis Major is one of the few constellations in the heavens which resembles what it is supposed to be: a large dog. Puppis, on the other hand, boasts no bright stars, and is difficult at best for even seasoned observers to identify. Stellar beacons notwithstanding, both of these constellations are rich in open clusters, as they lie along the winter Milky Way. Several interesting planetary nebulae and double stars are also found in this region. Later in the year, galaxies will be overwhelming the skies, so if you want to find objects a bit closer and brighter, it's time to come out of the warm and do some cold weather astronomy! So bundle up, make some coffee or hot chocolate, and get out under the stars for some fine observing!


Sirius - Sirius, with a visual magnitude of -1.44, is the brightest star in the sky, and is located in the constellation Canis Major, which is located to the east and a bit south of the constellation Orion. As this star rises in the evening in late autumn and early winter, its light is refracted through the relatively dense atmosphere, glowing in red, green and yellow as it twinkles due to atmospheric disturbances. This can be a lovely sight through a telescope. Sirius has a small companion, and is technically a double star. However, due to the close angle of separation and tiny size, and because its dimmer light is easily washed out by the intense glow from much brighter Sirius, this companion is rarely seen with an amateur telescope.

M-41 - Large and splashy, this fine open cluster is easily seen as a hazy patch to the naked eye, and is fully half a degree in diameter in the telescope. About 60-70 stars can be seen at low power, in many curving chains. The cluster is dominated by a bright orange star near its center. A great open cluster.

NGC 2354 - Relatively large, this open cluster is about 15-20' in diameter, round, and composed of relatively bright stars and a sprinkling of fainter stars. The center seems empty, with very few stars.

NGC 2359 - The Duck Head Nebula. This is a large and faint diffuse nebula which is best seen at low powers. It is about 10' in extent, and is composed of an arching segment intersected at almost right angles by a straighter component, resembling a duck's head and bill. I found it best seen with an Orion Ultrablock filter, while the Lumicon UHC filter did not do as well. This is a good object for you light bucket owners.

NGC 2362 - A small but very pretty open cluster surrounding the star Tau CMa. It is about 6' in diameter, compact, and well concentrated. I counted about 40 stars with most of them being moderate in brightness. This is one of my personal favorites.

NGC 2360 - This is a large open cluster, 12-15' in diameter, with about 75 stars well concentrated to the center. It is visible in the viewfinder and impressive through the telescope.

ADS 5951 - One of my favorite double stars, this is a fine pair composed of yellow-orange and blue stars. It reminds me of a fainter version of the more famous Albireo. It's easily split, so check it out!

Article © Copyright Rick Raasch
© Copyright Edward P. Flaspoehler, Jr.

Messier Objects in Canis Major











Open Cluster

6h 47.0

-20d 44




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