Monday, March 28, 2011

Sirius Mysteries

No Dog Days Yet
Sirius the Dog Star is the brightest star in the nighttime sky. It has fascinated people around the globe and plays a prominent role in cultural myths. To the Egyptians it was worshipped as the "King of Suns," who based their calendars on its movements. The rising and setting of Sirius told the Egyptians when to plant, when to harvest, and when the Nile typically flooded. The phrase "Dog Days of Summer" originates in the ancient Egypt. During the hottest part of summer, the Sun stands high in the sky. And even though they could not see it, the Egyptians knew that Sirius was also nearby the Sun during the day. They claimed that the presence and brilliance of Sirius added to the intensity of the Sun's heat.

In Hindu mythology, Sirius was a hunter. This hunter was the father of 27 daughters represented in the 27 phases of the moon.

The Finnish poet Topelius wrote a poem hypothesizing that two stars fell in love and became one - he turned out to be correct Sirius has a small white dwarf companion circling it, Sirius B
which orbits Sirius every 50 years.

Two controversies surround Sirius. Ancient Greek texts claim that Sirius is a bright red star. In actuality Sirius is shimmering white. Did Sirius change colors over the years? Did the Greeks get this wrong? Was Sirius lower in the sky and therefore appear more red? We may never know.

The second controversy involves the mythology that the Dogon people of West Africa had about Sirius. According to French anthropologists who first met this tribe, the Dogon had a special reverence for Sirius and developed many unique rituals around this bright star. The Dogon legends say that aliens from Sirius visited their people 5,000 years ago. They perform a celebration every 50 years in honor of their alien visitors. Why every 50 years? The aliens told them that where they come from they have 2 suns, a smaller one that orbits the larger one every 50 years. It turns out that modern astronomy proved the existence of a smaller companion star (Sirius B) that orbits the main star (Sirius A) every... wait for it... 50 years! So the question still remains, were the Dogon really visited by aliens from Sirius or were they just given inside information from aliens from France?

Look for Sirius in the southwestern sky this March and April.

Sirius Aliens?