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Written in the stars: the dog days of summer

Posted at 4:42 PM, Aug 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-01 19:52:22-04

When you hear the phrase "the dog days of summer," you probably think of those hot, lazy summer days when even the dogs would rather lie around than run in the heat. While that is the meaning of the phrase now, its origin comes from the stars.

As the end of summer looms on the horizon, so does the constellation, Canis Major, which means "the Greater Dog." 

Mallory Kountze Planetarium operator Krista Testin says the best time to see the constellation's brightest star, Sirius, is in mid-August.

"I would go out an hour or so before sunrise, find the constellation Orion, follow its belt to the east and you should see a bright star along the horizon."

Throughout time, the appearance of Sirius, the brightest star other than the sun, was a signal for almost every culture. 

For ancient Egyptians, it was a precursor to flooding.

"That would say, 'hey, this is getting to be that flooding season,' so preparing for the floods and then the fertility season, or the growing season, for the Nile River after that," explains Testin.

Native Americans believed Sirius was the signal that it was time to start leaving their summer camps and to prepare for fall and winter.

While the stories may change over time, they are all held together with one common thread: the dog. And with temperatures looking to be above average into the middle of August, it appears we really are heading into the dog days of summer.