The Boss's Dog

Here’s to the Hubble

By The General

We dogs live in the night sky more than most humans do. We dog-nap through the night - a bit like we do during the day - taking a peek whenever there's a noise or a light or some smell comes drifting by.

We just have to work out what it is and where it comes from and what it means - then we can go back to sleep.

On those nights around a full moon we're mostly wide awake so you might see us sleeping more soundly than usual during the day.

There's a lot going on when there's a big moon around - the willy wagtails keep chattering away, those noisy masked lapwings screech a lot, the wood ducks lob in to graze with that pesky "meeow" and there's often hares or a fox snooping about. We can all see what's going on with a big bright moon...though we usually smell and hear it first.

You might hear the odd dog howling too, like the dingoes do. The wild dogs in the hills pick up that habit as well, which always makes the Easter camp a tad unsettling. The Boss reckons he could pick out seven, all howling around the valley, one Easter moon.

But I've taken an interest in the night sky ever since The Boss pointed out Sirius, the Dog Star - he says its the brightest star in the universe and I quite like that. It's the aplha star in Canis Major, the big dog belonging to Orion, the Hunter. Just like me.

The hunter's belt in Orion points straight at Sirius, which is lower on the western horizon in late April and drops away before midnight.

In a couple of months, you won't see much of Sirius at all - from early July until mid-August it rises with the sun. These are "the dog days" you might have heard about. The ancient Greeks called them that because they came with the hottest part of summer in the northern hemisphere.

If you look around to the south, you'll see Crux, the Southern Cross. I think you call it that. I like its proper name myself. Drop your eyes towards the southern horizon and you'll see those two white smudges that look like off-shoots from the Milky Way.

These are the Magellanic Clouds, the Large and the Small - they look like clouds but they're full of millions of stars. The Large Magellanic Cloud is where the Hubble's anniversary picture came from - they call it the "Cosmic Reef" because it resembles a coral reef floating in a sea of stars - the big stars in the middle are 10 or 20 times the size of our Sun.

The Boss says the blue nebula to the left was created by a mammoth star 200,000 times the size of the Sun - that sounds big enough to me. It erupted at some point way back when and lost its collar.

The Boss is a big fan of the Hubble telescope, which they sent up thirty years ago. It's still the largest space telescope up there and they say it will keep going for another decade at least. It is in low orbit around the earth but gets a much clearer view of the sky than any telescope on the ground and has explained a lot about the universe that we didn't know, whether we needed it or not.

The Boss loves the images though:  NASA also released a set of 30, the best of each year taken by the Hubble - and you can see them all here, starting with the "Cosmic Reef:"

30 Years, 30 Images

One of the things the Hubble discovered is that Sirius - my star, the dog star - has a companion star called Sirius B, which had been known about but astronomers couldn't see it properly because Sirius was so bright. I like the idea of having a companion. You could call Queenie, my mum, sort of a companion but she tries to outshine me all the time. 

Which is the wrong way round, isn't it? I'm the hunter's biggest dog and she ought to respect that, even if she's the meanest. I'll try telling her about respect - and let you know how I go. Woof!

Here's a short video explaining more about the Cosmic Reef nebula: