By Mike P. Usher
Shining high in the sky in the southeast is the bright star Procyon in the otherwise non-descript of Canis Minor – the little dog. Canis Minor posesses but two stars – Procyon being the brightest. Procyon is larger, hotter and brighter than our Sun, but the primary reason it’s the seventh brightest star in the sky is that it is so close to us, only 11.46 light years.
Procyon is thought to be approaching the end of its life and will soon become what is known as a red giant star and expand to over 80 times its present size with a corresponding increase in brightness. It won’t be soon on a human time scale though, the expansion probably will not start before 10 million more years elapse. After the red giant phase is over, Procyon will shrink down to a white dwarf star not much larger than the Earth – too dim to make out without a telescope.
Procyon’s name comes from the Greek “prokyon” meaning “before the dog”. It comes by this name by rising before it’s neighbor Sirius the dog star in most northerly latitudes. This is untrue on Marco Island however; Sirius beats out Procyon by a couple of minutes.
Mars is now well past opposition and Earth is rapidly pulling away from it on the fast inside track around the Sun. This is well demonstrated by the rapid dimming of Mars; the Red Planet is only half as bright as it was just a month ago. Still Mars is obvious and brighter than all else in this portion of the sky except Sirius. It glows like a red eye in the southernmost regions of the constellation of Leo, not far from the star Regulus.
As Earth races past Mars it appears to reverse its normal direction of movement and moves from east to west. This reverse motion is called retrograde. Now that Earth has pulled far ahead of Mars this retrograde motion is slowing down and will change back to normal motion (west to east) in a few days. Still this happens rather slowly and Mars will remain in roughly the same position in the sky for the next month or so.
See you next time!
Mr. Usher is President of the Everglades Astronomical Society which meets every second Tuesday at 7:00PM at the Norris Center, Cambier Park, Naples.