Tuesday, August 7, 2018

30 Days of Summer - Post #20 - The Dog Days of Summer

Did you know that "the dog days of summer" is a real thing? I didn't until recently.


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I remember hearing about "the dog days of summer" as a child. I can remember my grandparents warning me to stay out of the water (wading or playing in the creek) because we were in "the dog days" and it was "dangerous". I can remember thinking, "What are "dog days"?", "Why do they happen?", "What's their purpose?" and "What do dogs have to do with it???" 😕

According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, "the dog days of summer" begin July 3rd and end August 11th. These are the 40 days that, traditionally, coincide with the dawn rising of Sirius, the Dog Star.

According to The Old Farmer's Almanac for Kids, Sirius is the brightest star in the sky (not counting the sun, of course). Under the right conditions, Sirius can be seen with the naked eye during the daytime. Sirius is one star in a group of stars that form the constellation Canis Major, meaning "Greater Dog", thus, the nickname, the "Dog Star."


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In Ancient Egypt, the Nile River overflowed it's banks each year, usually beginning in late June. It was a welcome event because, with the floodwaters came rich soil that was needed to grow crops.

No one in Egypt knew exactly when the flooding would begin each year, but they noticed that it occurred just after Sirius began to rise before the sun. This event was so important to the Egyptian's survival that they began their new year with the New Moon following the star's first appearance on the eastern horizon. 

Unlike the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans, were not pleased with Sirius's appearance. They believed that the "combined heat" of Sirius and the sun is what caused the sweltering heat of the summer season and, with it, came drought, disease, and discomforts of all kinds including fever and lethargy. 

While I know that there is no "combined heat" of Sirius and the sun, I do often feel lethargic and generally unwell during the hot months of summer. That's one of the main reasons that I really don't enjoy summer as much as some people do.

Was all of this just superstition? When my grandparents warned me to stay out of the water during "the dog days of summer" because it was "dangerous" were they just passing along some old wives' tale that they had heard or grown up with themselves?

In 2009 a Finish study confirmed that the rate of infections were, indeed, higher during "the dog days of summer." The authors wrote, "This study was conducted in order to challenge the myth that the rate of infections is higher during the dog days. To our surprise, the myth was found to be true."

Today, due to a slow wobble of the Earth's axis, the Dog Star now seems to rise later in the year than it did in ancient times. Its ascension no longer coincides with the start of the Nile flood (which doesn't happen anymore anyway, due to the river being controlled by the Aswan Dam), but Sirius does still make its appearance during the long, hot days of summer.

So...there you have it..."the dog days of summer" is a real thing! 

To help you find Sirius in the nighttime sky, I am including this:

Canis Major (The Great Dog) is named for the larger of Orion's two hunting dogs (the other, Canis Minor, has only two stars). 

Finding Sirus in the Nighttime Sky

To find Canis Major, imagine a straight line through Orion's belt. 
Move your eyes left (south) until you come to a very bright star - that's Sirius, the nose of the dog. Look farther south to find a triangle of stars that marks the dogs hindquarters. 

Sirius in Canis Major
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Until next time...
~Rebecca

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