Canis Minor Constellation
The ‘Small Dog’ is recognised as one of the hunting dogs of Orion following behind through the night sky. Majority of the mythological and historic references of Canis Minor are shared with Canis Major. It is in close proximity and shares stories with the significant winter constellations it is a popular constellation for amateur stargazers.
The Canis Minor constellation is one of the original 48 constellations listed by the Egyptian mathematician Ptolemy, living under Roman rule in Alexandria in the 2nd century. These constellations formed the basis for the modern list agreed by the IAU. Constellations from the southern hemisphere, unable to be seen from the Mediterranean, represent the majority of additions to the list.
As well as through myth it is linked to Canis Major and Orion through the formation of the navigational asterism the winter Triangle which connects Procyon to Sirius and Betelguese. Further it forms part of the Winter Hexagon that links all of the brightest stars in the winter sky and forms an unusally uniform hexagon.
As the earth moves in its orbit around the sun, each night you are looking at a different portion of the sky. When looking at stars it is important to be aware of what is within your view. Northern hemisphere stargazers can group constellations into 3 groups; circumpolar, summer and winter constellations. The circumpolar constellations are in the north sky, appear to move around the north star and are visible throughout the year. The constellations in the south sky are only visible for part of the year and are grouped as either summer or winter constellations. Each is visible from between 4 to 10 months.
It is important to be aware of the specific time of year and hour of the night when deciding what to look for. These pages below show the constellations in each group so you can find the constellations that interest you.
CIRCUMPOLAR (year around) – Ursa Major – Cassiopeia – Ursa Minor – Draco – Cepheus
WINTER – Pegasus – Pisces – Aries – Auriga – Taurus – Orion – Canis Major – Canis Minor – Gemini – Lynx – Cancer – Leo – Winter Hexagon
SUMMER – Virgo – Libra – Scorpius – Bootes – Hercules – Lyra – Ophiuchus – Sagittarius – Aquila – Cygnus – Capricornus – Aquarius
Or use this guide to easily see which constellations are easiest to find right now:
Canis Minor Quick Facts:
Symbolism: Small Dog
Brightest star: Procyon, 0.34 magnitude (8th brightest star in the night sky)
Stars brighter than 3 magnitude: 2
Primary stars: 2 (Head and tail, although in good conditions 2 stars above the head are said to represent the ears)
Latitude: 13.22 degrees north – 00.36 degrees south
Northern Hemisphere Season: Winter (January – March)
Which months can you see Canis Minor constellation?
Canis Minor constellation can be seen from September to May but can be found high in the sky at 21:00 during February:
- Early evening viewers (before 21:00) can find the constellation from December in the eastern sky until May in the western sky. Cancer constellation will be visible overhead in April.
- Mid evening viewers (21:00-23:30) can find the constellation from December in the eastern sky until May in the western sky. Cancer constellation will be visible overhead in March.
- Late evening viewers (after 23:30) can find the constellation from November in the eastern sky until April in the western sky. Auriga will be visible overhead in January.
- Early morning viewers can find the constellation from September in the eastern sky to January in the western sky. Auriga will be visible overhead in November.
Best time to see the Canis Minor Constellation
Best visible at 21:00 in February
September: appear on the eastern horizon at 02:30, it will move west until sunrise when it will be 40 degrees above the eastern horizon.
October: appear on the eastern horizon at 00:30, it will move west until sunrise when it will be 60 degrees above the eastern horizon.
November: appear on the eastern horizon at 22:30, reaching its peak at 03:30, 60 degrees above the southern horizon. It will continue moving west until sunrise when it will be 50 degrees above the south western horizon.
December: appear on the eastern horizon at 20:30, reaching its peak at 01:30 60 degrees above the southern horizon. It will continue moving west until sunrise when it will be 25 degrees above the western horizon.
January: appear 10 degrees above the eastern horizon at 18:30, reaching its peak at 23:30, 60 degrees above the southern horizon. It will continue moving west until 05:00 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the western horizon.
February: 30 degrees above the eastern horizon at sunset, reaching its peak at 21:30 60 degrees above the southern horizon. It will continue moving west until 03:00 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the western horizon.
March: 55 degrees above the south eastern horizon at sunset, reaching its peak at 19:30 65 degrees above the southern horizon. It will continue moving west until 01:00 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the western horizon.
April: 60 degrees above the south western horizon at sunset. It will only be partially visible after 01:00.
May: 37 degrees above the western horizon at sunset. It will only be partially visible after 23:00.
Trajectory: The constellation is between 15-0 degrees north which means it is high in the southern sky for northern hemisphere viewers at lower latitudes. In Wadi Rum the constellation will rise in the slightly south of due east and follow a path high in the southern sky.
Not the right time for Canis Minor? Have a look what constellations you can see tonight.
How to find Canis Minor constellation?
Canis Mior constellation is visible in the southern sky during winter months for observers in the northern hemisphere. It has the prominent star Procyon which makes it easy to find.
Although Canis Major forms part of some of the best known winter asterisms, like most winter constellations the identifier is Orion. Although the star itself is bright and can likely be identified without a specific pointer star with some awareness of the formation of the constellations.
If you have no awareness of the location of constellations it is best to first become familiar with identifying Orion through his very easy to identify belt. Once you have identified the hourglass shape of Orion’s body you have pointers for his two dogs. Canis Minor can be found by following the line of the shoulders east approximately 4 times their width. This can be combined by using the belt to identify Canis Major and form the Winter Triangle.
As Procyon itself is very bright this will be a constellation you will quickly be able to identify quickly and will aid you in forming the winter triangle and hexagon and subsequently using those asterisms to identify neighbouring constellations.
Tracing the shape of Canis Minor constellation
This form is one of the least elaborate of all the constellations and less noteworthy accordingly. The reference star of Procyon marks the tail of the dog.
From Procyon the head of the dog is north east a similar distance to the length of Orion’s belt. Additionally helpful is that the angle is somewhat parallel with the belt or Orion.
These two stars form the official constellation of Canis Minor however if you observe closely there are 2 small stars above the head within the constellation that signify the ears of the dog.
Canis Minor in the Ancient World
Greek mythology of Laelaps
Canis minor shares many of its mythologocial references with Canis Major. It is connected to the Greek mythology story of Laelaps and the Teumessian fox. Laelaps was the hunting dog who would always catch its prey. Zeus gave Laelaps as a gift to Europa of Crete and in time came under ownership of Procris. Procris entrusted it to her husband Cephalus along with a spear that never missed. However, motivated by jealousy she hid in the forest to monitor him during a hunt and he inadvertently killed her with the spear.
Cephalus was banished for the murder and during his exile was commissioned to hunt the Teumessian fox. The Teumessian fox was a gigantic fox that the gods had created as a punishment against the Thebes and was destined never to be caught. The god given destiny of each created a paradox and Zeus turned them both to stone.
Ancient Babylonian script has referenced the two stars of Canis Minor as the twin stars. This has no connection to the Gemini constellation and was a common reference for stars in close proximity throughout the ancient world.
Main stars of Canis Minor
Procyon (+0.34m, 11.6ly, double star, #8)
Procyon from ancient Greek meaning ‘before the dog’ signifying that it appears on the horizon before Sirius (the dog star).The star has an apparent magnitude of 0.34 making it the 8th brightest in the night sky. Procyon is 11.6 light years from earth. The double star system led by the primary star 33 times the size of the sun. The star marks the tail of the small dog.
Gomeisa (+2.89m, 160ly, 180 suns, #153)
Gomeisa is from the Arabic for ‘tired eyed woman’ and is a relatively lesser significant start apart from its formati0n with one of the brightest closest stars in forming Canis Minor. It has an apparent magnitude of +2.89. It is 160 light years from earth. The volume is 180 times that of the sun.