As August 2014 comes to a close, the first hints of the changing of the seasons can now be seen in the predawn and dawn sky: Orion the Hunter and Sirius the Dog Star. The very noticeable constellation Orion the Hunter rises before dawn at this time of year, recognizable for the short straight line of three stars that make up Orion’s Belt. And the sky’s brightest star Sirius – sometimes called the Dog Star because it’s part of the constellation Canis Major the Greater Dog – follows Orion into the sky at or close to dawn. Have you noticed a very bright, madly twinkling star in the predawn sky? Many do, at this time of year. That star is Sirius. It’s so bright that, when it’s low in the sky, it shines with glints of red and flashes of blue – very noticeable!
Orion and the nearby star Sirius will become visible in the evening by northern winter (or southern summer). But presently the Hunter and the Dog Star lord over the southeastern sky at dawn’s first light.
Orion was low in the west after sunset last spring, and, in early summer, this constellation was behind the sun as seen from Earth. Orion only returned to visibility in Earth’s sky about a month ago. (See our July 30 sky chart.) When a constellation becomes visible again, after being behind the sun, it always appears in the east before sunrise. Because – as Earth orbits the sun – all the stars rise two hours earlier with each passing month, Orion is now higher at dawn than a month ago.
As seen from the Northern Hemisphere, Orion precedes Sirius the Dog Star into the sky. After Orion first appears at morning dawn, you can count on Sirius to appear in the morning sky a few weeks later. You should be able to see Sirius at or before dawn right now – unless you live at far northern latitudes. But even there, it won’t be much longer!
Bottom line: Every year in late August, look for Orion the Hunter and Sirius the Dog in the early morning sky! Orion’s three prominent Belt stars always point to Sirius.