This week Hal enlightens us about the sixth brightest star visible in the northern hemisphere.
As the fourth of four children, I’m very sympathetic to the burden of being someone’s little brother. With that in mind, imagine being one of the brightest stars in the sky, and one of the most beautiful stars visible this time of year to southern Colorado and northern New Mexico listeners, and still being named someone’s little brother. Thus is the fate of the wonderful star Procyon.
Procyon is the brightest star in the small and dim constellation Canis Minor, or the small dog. And the name Procyon itself means “the little dog star.” All that indignity just because Procyon, the sixth brightest star visible in the northern hemisphere, ended up in the sky very near the brightest star of them all – Sirius.
Since Sirius is called the dog star, Procyon got stuck with being the little brother, or the little dog star, because it rises in the sky shortly before the more dramatic and brighter Sirius pops over the horizon.
Procyon is one of our closest neighbors, astronomically speaking. At only a bit over 11 ly away, it’s practically in our backyard. Its surface is hotter than our sun, and it glows seven times brighter. And it’s twice the diameter of our sun – pretty impressive for little brother.
Procyon is actually a double star, with the smaller faint companion in orbit around it. That faint companion, however, has burned through its hydrogen fuel and is now considered a dead star.
The winter sky contains many of the brightest stars visible. Procyon, along with Sirius, which we discussed before, and Betelgeuse, which will discuss next week, make up the winter triangle – three beautiful bright stars shining brilliantly in the cold night air. And, if you’re a biologist, Procyon may ring a bell. It’s also the name of the genus that contains raccoons.
If you’d like to take a closer look at Procyon, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit KRCC.org or CSASTRO.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties!
This is Hal Bidlack for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, telling you to keep looking up, Southern Colorado!