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The Dog Days of Summer

By Kathi Ferguson
Soon after the Summer Solstice in late June, those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere can be certain that a period of unrelenting heat and humidity will soon be upon us. Better known as the “Dog Days” of summer, such days conjure up floating lazily in the pool, consuming gallons of  iced tea, scrambling to find shade, and, of course, dogs panting even while just sitting around. After all, it’s way too hot for playing fetch!
So why are they called the Dog Days anyway?
The exact dates of the Dog Days can vary from source to source, but according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the Dog Days are considered to be the 40 days beginning July 3 and ending August 11. This period of hot, sultry weather coincides with following the heliacal (meaning “at sunrise”) rising of Sirius, the Dog Star. As astrology buffs probably know, Sirius is part of the constellation known as Canis Majoris, or “Greater Dog”. Not including our own Sun, Sirius is the brightest star in the sky. The Almanac claims that under the right conditions, Sirius can actually be seen with the naked eye during the day.
In ancient Greece, Egypt, and Rome, it was believed that in the summer months, Sirius rose and set with the Sun, theorizing that the bright, glowing Dog Star was adding to the extra heat of the season. In other words, this “combined heat” was thought to be the impetus for summer’s sweltering temperatures. The Egyptians used the star as a “watchdog” for the start of the Niles River flood season. And for many Greeks and Romans, the Dog Days were believed to be a time of drought, lethargy, bad luck, and unrest, when dogs and men alike would be driven mad by the extreme heat.
Despite the association with man’s best friend, the dog days of summer have nothing to do with dogs or with Sirius! Rather, it is the tilt of the Earth that explains why these days rank as summer’s hottest. Our sun’s light hits the Northern Hemisphere at a more direct angle and for a longer period of time, making way for those longer, hotter, and yes, lazy, crazy, hazy days ahead.