moonflower

Canis Major as depicted in Urania's Mirror, a ...

Canis Major as depicted in Urania’s Mirror, a set of constellation cards published in London c.1825. Next to it are Lepus and Columba (partly cut off). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Your fist like this”, she said, “covers about 10 degrees of the night sky.”  She moved my hand slowly over the dark water and spoke in her methodical way, no use to interrupt her. “20 degrees south-east of the belt of Orion, you see, there is the brightest star in the night sky, right in the constellation of Canis Major.” She waited for a moment for me to catch up with her. Our entwined hands travelled over the night sky and stopped. And there it was, deep underneath us, the brightest star of the night sky, as far as I could see. “Do you see this star?” she asked. “It is called Sirius. It is 23 times more luminous than our sun, twice the mass and the diameter of the sun. It is only 8.5 light years away.” The way she said “only 8.5 light years”, it sounded as if she was talking about a Sunday picnic destination. It sounded like: We could take the bike. It’s only 8.5 light years away. Before I had a chance to point that out to her, however, she had started talking again, and almost without warning, though in answer of my question, switched from her facts, from degrees between two points of light in the celestial sphere, luminosity and brightness, and mass of celestial objects, to a startling revelation.

 

Sirius

Often, on late summer nights my mother, my sister and I laid down flat on the lawn of our front yard and looked down into the stars. The grass of our lawn was long and wavy, different from the short cut golf course front lawns of our neighbors, and woven through with moonflowers that smelled lovely in the warm, damp night air and in their whiteness actually glowed like little stars themselves. I remember one night when I felt particularly light and small, and grateful to gravity for holding me securely to the surface of my own planet. The stars glittered in the distant depth. My mother giggled when she noticed that my little sister had fallen asleep right there on the lawn, her head nestled onto my mother’s shoulder. Suddenly it seemed so unlikely to me that in all of the universe expanding before my eyes our planet should be the only one with life on it. I asked my mother, who had been silently holding my hand whether she thought that there was life out there. My voice sounded like a whisper. It was the kind of question to which you don’t really expect an answer.
My Mother took my hand and pointed down at the three stars of the belt of Orion. “Your fist like this”, she said, “covers about 10 degrees of the night sky.” She moved my hand slowly over the dark water and spoke in her methodical way, no use to interrupt her. “20 degrees south-east of the belt of Orion, you see, there is the brightest star in the night sky, right in the constellation of Canis Major.” She waited for a moment for me to catch up with her. Our entwined hands travelled over the night sky and stopped. And there it was, deep underneath us, the brightest star of the night sky, as far as I could see. “Do you see this star?” she asked. “It is called Sirius. It is 23 times more luminous than our sun, twice the mass and the diameter of the sun. It is only 8.5 light years away.” The way she said “only 8.5 light years”, it sounded as if she was talking about a Sunday picnic destination. It sounded like: We could take the bike. It’s only 8.5 light years away. Before I had a chance to point that out to her, however, she had started talking again, and almost without warning, though in answer of my question, switched from her facts, from degrees between two points of light in the celestial sphere, luminosity and brightness, and mass of celestial objects, to a startling revelation: “My grandfather, your great-grandfather, believed that there is life in the Sirius system. The Dogon, an African tribe with very acute astrological knowledge, have believed for centuries that there is life out there as have the ancient Egypts and the Sumerians. According to the Dogon Sirius is accompanied by two other stars, a very small and incredibly dense star they call Po Tolo, which means “very little star”, and which modern astrology has confirmed to exist only recently and calls Sirius B. Indeed it has turned out to be a small star with an incredible density, heavier than the iron we know on earth. The Dogon also claim that the other star in the Sirius-System is lighter and larger than Sirius. They call it Emme Ya. And around Emme Ya they say there orbits the home planet of the Nommos, the children of Sirius and Emme Ya.“