Matt’s World of Weather: Charley and an Ancient Phrase

It’s relatively easy to define the start of summer; burgers on the grill, Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” on the radio. Accordingly, it’s just as easy to classify the end of summer; early sunsets, high school football playoffs. But how do we define the middle of summer? That hot and muggy part of summer that makes us yearn for snow on the ground? Well, the phrase Dog Days of Summer does a fine job classifying the heart of this season. Surprisingly, the phrase has nothing to do with our four legged friend.

To start, I’ll have to throw out a shameless plug for one of the previous World of Weather’s. In “Big Dogs and Satellite Radio” I mentioned the significance of Sirius, the brightest star in our night sky. During the winter months, Sirius hangs overhead and is easily seen when the sun is down. As we transition into the summer months, specifically July, Sirius no longer stays up while we sleep. Instead, the bright object rises and sets with the sun. Dawned in their stargazing togas and convertible chariots, ancient astronomers theorized Sirius and the sun were combining their “heat efforts” during the day to turn July and August into really hot months. Despite their incorrect theory behind the heat of summer, we still continue to classify these months based on their observations.

Sirius, also known as the dog star is located in the constellation Canis Major. Because the constellation and star follow the path of the sun during the hottest months of the years, these months became known as “The Dog Days of Summer”. While I wouldn’t recommend trying to spot “The Dog Star” during the “Dog Days of Summer” I would certainly treat your Charley* to the cool evenings by trying to find Saturn in our night skies instead (see below)

We’ll be pretty lonely the next couple of weeks when looking for planets in our night sky. Besides the one below our feet, Saturn will be around the entire month before Pluto and Neptune make their faint appearance in August. The ringed planet will settle into the Southwest sky during the evening hours, and a naked eye should be enough to see the “Roman God”.

Should you want to take your stargazing to a new level, any telescope will help bring out the rings. Additionally, I’ve come across a great site that helps lay the foundation for anyone looking to make the leap into our night sky and in the market for their first telescope.

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