Football season is almost here. You can almost smell the astro-turf … and it stinks. But enough about politics.
The beginning of the football season always signals a few things for me. First, for me living and teaching at Ole Miss, it means a lot of empty seats in the classroom on the Fridays before football games and a lot of trips to Batesville on the weekends just to eat lunch when there are home games because you can forget about trying to get into a restaurant in Oxford.
But the beginning of the football season also signals two astronomical events. No, not my alma mater, Mississippi State, having a winning season. That would be a cosmic event or, more specifically, divine intervention. But what the beginning of football means is the end of the dog days of summer. In fact, according to the astronomical calendar, the dog days of summer officially ended Tuesday, one day after the first NFL preseason game.
The dog days of summer have been around, at least in the northern hemisphere, since the days of the ancient Egyptians who named the star Sirius after their god Osiris, often depicted as having the head of a dog. Sirius is the brightest star in the heavens as viewed from Earth and, because it was so bright, the Egyptians believed that its heat added to the sun’s heat and gave us summer.
But apparently the Egyptians weren’t as bright as Sirius.
Since Sirius lies 8.6 light years from Earth, we are unaffected by that star’s heat. But because Sirius rises and sets in conjunction with the sun during the summer months, the Egyptians believed the two stars’ combined heat gave us the hottest days of summer, roughly from 20 days prior to the conjunction and 20 days after. That period ended this year on Tuesday although I wouldn’t look for a sudden cooling off.
The second astronomical event marked by the return of football season is the annual Perseid meteor shower which began Tuesday and continues today and, to a lessening degree, Thursday. The peak of the storm actually occurs about 1 p.m. today but it’s a little difficult to see shooting stars in the daytime unless, of course, one lands on your head.
The Perseid shower results from debris thrown off by Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle which orbits the sun every 130 years. When the Earth’s orbit crosses the comet’s path as it does every year about this time, some of the debris falls into our atmosphere as shooting stars. That’s what’s happening this week.
If you want to catch some falling stars, the best time would be from about 10 p.m. tonight until dawn. Look to the northeast just below the most recognizable constellation in that area, a group of stars that form a Dubya, excuse me, W, in the sky. That’s Cassiopeia.
And go Dawgs!
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38655 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.