The Constellation of the Lesser Dog (Canis Minor- Cmi)

The Lesser Dog

The name, the story, the myth

The Mesopotamians saw in the Lesser Dog a hunting dog in the swamp, hence perhaps the Arabic designation of Raccoon (Greek Prokion, or "before the dog") as Al Ghumaisa, "wet-eyed"; however, also the Arabic legend according to which the Greater Dog and the Lesser Dog are two sisters, one of whom (the one linked to the Greater Dog) has fled leaving behind her inconsolable sister, Al Shira (Sirius), read in the light of this, the name Al Ghumaisa would acquire a nuance in the meaning, "she who cries". The sisters fell in love with the young Al Jauzah (Orion), who lived across a river -according to some interpretations, represented by the Milky Way-. Both decided to reach him, only one had the courage to cross the river, Al Shira. From this the star would also be indicated with the full name of Al Shira al Abur, that is "Sirius crossing over".

The Canis Minor represents, according to one of the versions of Greek mythology, one of Orion's two hunting dogs, although some claim it is the dog of Icarius who, having lost his master (killed), went looking for his daughter to show her the body. When she too, grief-stricken, killed herself, the dog threw herself into a well in despair. Moved by grief, the gods reserved a place in heaven for the dog and, it seems, his master Icarius is near him (Bifolco).

The constellation Cane Minor

It's a quite well known constellation, if only because inside it there is a bright motion star (of magnitude 0.4, in a zone of sky poor of stars) that certainly doesn't disfigure compared to the colleagues Castor and Pollux, Sirius and the whole constellation of Orion: I'm talking about Raccoon, whose name, like Arcturus, usually causes smiles if not hilarity from people who, vice versa, listen with interest to the explanations about the sky.
Just as Arcturus does not refer to a character of such a name, so the name Raccoon does not refer to the nice animal also called Washing Bear: also this name derives from the Greek and vice versa means "before the dog", understood as "[the rising star] before the Dog (Sirius)", thus announcing its imminent appearance.

Let's rely once again on the trustworthy Stellarium to better understand this statement: a picture is worth more than a thousand words and a movie even more!

Here we can see the eastern horizon on any night, when Raccoon, once risen and already clearly visible, just before the rise of Sirius, the star of the Greater Dog, also known as the Canicola: the appearance before Raccoon and immediately after the Canicola were the announcement of the arrival of the great summer heat. In ancient times, in fact, it was the sky that provided the weather forecast...

The representation of the Dog Minor in antiquity and modernly is in all cases quite obvious: here we see the Uranometria

The Lesser Dog in Uranometry

here instead the representation of Hevelius

The Lesser Dog according to Hevelius

and finally the modern Stellarium

The Lesser Dog according to Stellarium

It is always and anyway a small dog, that maybe not even the ancients saw, but that accompanied the greatest Dog Major.

The stars of the Big Dog

As mentioned earlier, this constellation presents Raccoon as a neighboring star, a double-tracked star of class F5 accompanied by a white dwarf, but also the so-called Luyten's Star (named after its discoverer) a tithing star of class M3, which is just 12 away from us.

Allow me the usual playful parenthesis, to introduce you to my astronomer friends, inhabitants of a planet that orbits around the Raccoon star: my Proci friends have just now sent me a picture of the stellar $campo$ in which appears our Sun (which they who knows what it is called Penelope), visible as a second star and close to the well known Altair. I forgot to tell you that the planet where my friends live is called Ithaca: look at the coincidences...

The other nearby star is as said the star of Luyten and my friends Luitenani, very short in stature, had sent me a photo of the $campo$ star, which looks like a photocopy of the previous photo: coming back seriously this fact should not surprise us more, since Raccoon and Luyten's Star are in the same area of the sky and practically at the same distance from the Sun. Thanks to Celestia we know that the distance between the two stars is just 1 light year and for the record the stars mentioned appear respectively in 13th and 22nd place in the ranking of the nearest stars, a list that sees as well known in the head Proxima Centauri with just 4.22 at a distance.

comparison between two stars of the Dog Lesser with other notes

Inside the constellation we meet two big stars: the first one is the ε CMi of spectral class G8, a yellow giant, 47 times big our Sun, while the second one is the 6 CMi, of spectral class K2, therefore of the same family of the more times cited Aldebaram, that once again is overlooked by this star, 44 times big our Sun.

Needless to say, my Seìcimi friends are very proud of the fact that their star is bigger than the more famous Aldebaran, but it should be added that they have always been twinned with their cousins Epsilòcimi: the former are lovers of the mountains while the latter are lovers of painting. All this maybe derives from the spectral class of their stars (K2 and Gi-otto), but there are no certain news about it.

Deep Sky Objects

The certainty instead is on the beauty of the two objects I'm about to show you, immortalized as always by the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). It is the spiral galaxy NGC 2485

the spiral galaxy NGC 2485

and the lenticular galaxy NGC 2508

the spiral galaxy NGC 2508

which certainly do not disfigure alongside other much better known galaxies.

Names of stars and visibility

Among the few stars of the Lesser Dog, two have received names, quite well known.

  • Raccoon (α CMi): [rising] before the dog
  • Gomeisa (ß CMi): who has blurred eyes for crying

As for the visibility of the constellation, at the usual time of 9 p.m., it is low on the horizon, in the East, in mid-November, culminating in the South at the beginning of March, and then low on the horizon, in the West, in June.

Audio Video The Constellation of the Lesser Dog (Canis Minor- Cmi)
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