The phrase “Dog Days” refers to the hottest days of summer. The Old Farmer’s Almanac lists the traditional timing of the Dog Days: the 40 days beginning July 3 and ending August 11, coinciding with the heliacal (at sunrise) rising of the Dog Star, Sirius.
The rising of Sirius does not actually affect the weather (some of our hottest and most humid days occur after August 11), but for the ancient Egyptians, Sirius appeared just before the season of the Nile’s flooding so they used the star as a “watchdog” for that event. Since its rising also coincided with a time of extreme heat, the connection with hot, sultry weather was made for all time.
More about the Dog Days can be found here: Dog Days of Summer
What is a meteor shower?
A meteor shower is a spike in the number of meteors or “shooting stars” that streak through the night sky.
Most meteor showers are spawned by comets. As a comet orbits the Sun it sheds an icy, dusty debris stream along its orbit. If Earth travels through this stream, we will see a meteor shower. Although the meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, if you trace their paths, the meteors in each shower appear to “rain” into the sky from the same region.
Meteor showers are named for the constellation that coincides with this region in the sky, a spot known as the radiant. For instance, the radiant for the Leonid meteor shower is in the constellation Leo. The Perseid meteor shower is so named because meteors appear to fall from a point in the constellation Perseus.
Visit our Almanac Page to find out which meteor showers may be visible each month and when they will be at their best, or follow this tag Meteor Shower, to see posts on all the meteor showers visible from earth.
What are shooting stars?
“Shooting stars” and “falling stars” are both names that describe meteors — streaks of light across the night sky caused by small bits of interplanetary rock and debris called meteoroids vaporizing high in Earth’s upper atmosphere. Traveling at tens of thousands of miles an hour, meteoroids quickly ignite from the searing friction with the atmosphere, 30 to 80 miles above the ground. Almost all are destroyed in this process; the rare few that survive and hit the ground are known as meteorites.
When a meteor appears, it seems to “shoot” quickly across the sky, and its small size and intense brightness might make you think it is a star. If you’re lucky enough to spot a meteorite (a meteor that makes it all the way to the ground), and see where it hits, it’s easy to think you just saw a star “fall.”
How can I best view a meteor shower?
Get away from the glow of city lights and toward the constellation from which the meteors will appear to radiate.
For example, drive north to view the Leonids. Driving south may lead you to darker skies, but the glow will dominate the northern horizon, where Leo rises. Perseid meteors will appear to “rain” into the atmosphere from the constellation Perseus, which rises in the northeast around 11 p.m. in mid-August.
After you’ve escaped the city glow, find a dark, secluded spot where oncoming car headlights will not periodically ruin your sensitive night vision. Look for state or city parks or other safe, dark sites.
Once you have settled at your observing spot, lie back or position yourself so the horizon appears at the edge of your peripheral vision, with the stars and sky filling your field of view. Meteors will instantly grab your attention as they streak by.
How do I know the sky is dark enough to see meteors?
If you can see each star of the Little Dipper, your eyes have “dark adapted,” and your chosen site is probably dark enough. Under these conditions, you will see plenty of meteors.
What should I pack for meteor watching?
Treat meteor watching like you would the 4th of July fireworks. Pack comfortable chairs, bug spray, food and drinks, blankets, plus a red-filtered flashlight for reading maps and charts without ruining your night vision. Binoculars are not necessary. Your eyes will do just fine.
The Geminids is the king of the meteor showers. It is considered by many to be the best shower in the heavens, producing up to 120 multicolored meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by debris left behind by an asteroid known as 3200 Phaethon, which was discovered in 1982.
The shower runs annually from December 7-17. It peaks this year on the night of the 13th and morning of the 14th. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Gemini, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
The Leonids is an average shower, producing up to 15 meteors per hour at its peak. This shower is unique in that it has a cyclonic peak about every 33 years where hundreds of meteors per hour can be seen. That last of these occurred in 2001. The Leonids is produced by dust grains left behind by comet Tempel-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1865. The shower runs annually from November 6-30. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Leo, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
The Taurids is a long-running minor meteor shower producing only about 5-10 meteors per hour. It is unusual in that it consists of two separate streams. The first is produced by dust grains left behind by Asteroid 2004 TG10. The second stream is produced by debris left behind by Comet 2P Encke. The shower runs annually from September 7 to December 10. Best viewing will be just after midnight from a dark location far away from city lights. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Taurus, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
The Draconids is a minor meteor shower producing only about 10 meteors per hour. It is produced by dust grains left behind by comet 21P Giacobini-Zinner, which was first discovered in 1900. The Draconids is an unusual shower in that the best viewing is in the early evening instead of early morning like most other showers. The shower runs annually from October 6-10. Best viewing will be in the early evening from a dark location far away from city lights. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Draco, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
The Orionids is an average meteor shower producing up to 20 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by dust grains left behind by comet Halley, which has been known and observed since ancient times. The shower runs annually from October 2 to November 7. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Orion, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
Get set for the meteoritic grand finale of summer. The middle week of August is the peak of the Perseid meteor shower.
The Perseids is one of the best meteor showers to observe, producing up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by comet Swift-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1862. The Perseids are famous for producing a large number of bright meteors. The shower runs annually from July 17 to August 24. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Perseus, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
It peaks this year (2017) on the night of August 12 and the morning of August 13. The waning gibbous moon will block out many of the fainter meteors this year, but the Perseids are so bright and numerous that it should still be a good show.
Of course, like with any meteor shower, it’s worth starting to watch a few days prior to the peak date. Although meteor streams like the Perseids have been modeled and mapped over the years, there are still lots of surprises out there. Plus, starting an early vigil is insurance that you at least catch some action in the event that you’re clouded out on game day! The Perseids are already active, spanning a season from July 17th to August 24th.
Here’s a sky map:
Source: SeaSky and other sources
The Delta Aquarids is an average meteor shower that can produce up to 20 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by debris left behind by comets Marsden and Kracht. The shower runs annually from July 12 to August 23. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Aquarius, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
“These are strange and breathless days,
the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.”
The Dog Days originally were the days when Sirius rose just before or at the same time as sunrise, which is no longer true, owing to procession of the equinoxes.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac lists the traditional period of the Dog Days as the 40 days beginning July 3rd and ending August 11th, coinciding with the ancient heliacal (at sunrise) rising of the Dog Star, Sirius. These are the days of the year with the least rainfall in the Northern Hemisphere.
These canicular days get their name from the Dog Star, Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major. At this time of the year Sirius disappears into the Sun’s glow. Both heavenly bodies are in conjunction, rising and setting at around the same time. Ancient stargazers thought that the heat from Sirius, the brightest star in the heavens, combined with the heat of the Sun produced the hottest weather of the year! Even though Sirius is hotter than our Sun it is much too far away to warm our planet.
In Ancient Rome, the Dog Days ran from July 24th through August 24th, or, alternatively, from July 23 through August 23rd. The period was reckoned as extending from 20 days before to 20 days after the conjunction of Sirius (the dog star) and the sun.
The Romans sacrificed a brown dog at the beginning of the Dog Days to appease the rage of Sirius, believing that the star was the cause of the hot, sultry weather. In many European cultures (German, French, Italian) this period is still said to be the time of the Dog Days.
Since its rising also coincided with a time of extreme heat, the connection with hot, sultry weather was made for all time:
“Dog Days bright and clear indicate a happy year.
But when accompanied by rain, for better times our hopes are vain.”
The ancient Egyptians saw Sirius as a giver of life for it always reappeared at the time of the annual flooding of the Nile. When the star sank in the west and disappeared from the night sky, it remained hidden for 70 days before emerging in the east in the morning. This was viewed as a time of death and rebirth. The Egyptians copied this period in their funeral ceremonies. When a king died, his body was mummified, then interred in a pyramid or other tomb. By custom, burial took place 70 days after death, when the king was “reborn” in the stars.
Sirius was astronomically the foundation of their entire religious system. It was the embodiment of Isis, sister and consort of the god Osiris, who appeared in the sky as Orion. This is the period of time Sirius disappears from the sky — sequenced in the myth when Isis is hiding until the birth of her son, Horus — eventually the star reappears after Horus is born — resurrection.
On the first day of Sirius’ reappearance the ancient Egyptians expected an abundant harvest, if the star appeared bright and clear. If Sirius appeared dull and red, a poor harvest would result.
The Dog Star, Sirius is also known as our Spiritual Sun, esoterically the cosmic heart of our physical Sun. During the Dog Days when Sirius disappears into the Sun’s glowing light, it could be said that our physical Sun is embracing our Spiritual Sun! After such a celestial union a rebirth or resurrection can be expected.
Dog Days were popularly believed to be an evil time according to Brady’s Clavis Calendaria, 1813:
“the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies.”
The 1552 edition of the The Book of Common Prayer, way the “Dog Daies” begin July 6th and end August 17th. This corresponds very closely to the lectionary of the 1611 edition of the King James Bible (also called the Authorized version of the Bible) which indicates the Dog Days beginning on July 6th and ending on September 5th.
A recent reprint of the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer contains no reference to the Dog Days. In the Southern Hemisphere, they typically occur in January and February, in the midst of the austral summer.
Honoring the Dog Days
- Themes: Fertility; Destiny; Time
- Symbols: Stars; Dogs
- Presiding Goddess: Sopdet
The reigning Egyptian Queen of the Constellations, Sopdet lies in Sirius, guiding the heavens and thereby human destiny. Sopdet is the foundation around which the Egyptian calendar system revolved, her star’s appearance heralding the beginning of the fertile season. Some scholars believe that the Star card of the tarot is fashioned after this goddess and her attributes.
Note: The dog days and the dog star Sirius are also associated with the Egyptian Goddess Hathor..
To Do Today:
The long, hot days of summer are known as “dog days” because they coincide with the rising of the dog star, Sirius. In ancient Egypt this was a welcome time as the Nile rose, bringing enriching water to the land. So, go outside at dawn, and welcome the Sun. Make an offering of water, and whisper a wish to Sopdet suited to her attributes and your needs. For example, if you need to be more timely or meet a deadline, she’s the perfect goddess to keep things on track.
If you’re curious about your destiny, watch the eastern region of the sky in the evening and see if any shooting stars appear. If so, this is a message from Sopdet. A star moving on your right side is a positive omen/ better days ahead. Those on the left indicate a need for caution, and those straight ahead mean things will continue on an even keel for now.
Nonetheless, seeing any shooting star means Sopdet has received your wish.