In this article, we’ll be sharing with you everything you need to know about the constellation of Canis Minor, including how to find it, deep space objects contained within it and how to use it to find other night sky objects more easily.

The Constellation of Canis Minor 

Canis Minor is one of the constellations that Greek astronomer Ptolemy cataloged over 2,000 years ago. Its name means ‘the smaller dog’ or ‘the lesser dog’ in Latin. In Greek mythology this constellation represents the smaller of two dogs following Orion.

In another Greek myth, Canis Minor represents the Teumessian fox (a magical fox that could never be outrun) and Canis Major represents Laelaps (the magical dog that could hunt down and catch any prey). Laelaps hunted the Teumessian fox and when Zeus realized the hunt would never end he either turned both animals into stone or placed them in the night sky as Canis Major and Canis Minor.

The stars Procyon (in Canis Minor) and Sirius (in Canis Major) were also known by other ancient cultures. In Ancient Arabia, these two stars represent two young sisters who decided to follow their older brother into the fields. They became lost and when they approached a wide river in the sky (the Milky Way), Sirius (the older sister) swam to the other side. Procyon (the younger sister) was afraid of the water and stayed behind. Sirius and Procyon are forever parted by the Milky Way.

To help you spot Canis Minor, here’s what SkySafari 6 shows.

Canis Minor as shown by SkySafari
Canis Minor as shown by SkySafari. Click for full-screen.

Canis Minor is a small constellation with an area of 183 square degrees, making it the 71th largest of the 88 recognized constellations.

Canis Minor is often depicted as a dog on the back of the unicorn Monoceros. Procyon, Sirius and Betelgeuse (in Orion) form a triangular asterism called the ‘Winter Triangle’.

When the stars Capella (in Auriga), Aldebaran (in Taurus), Pollux (in Gemini), and Rigel (in Orion) are added the side of the Winter Triangle marked by Capella and Sirius, they form another asterism called the ‘Winter Hexagon’ or ‘Winter Circle’.

The boundaries and neighboring constellations for Canis Minor
The boundaries and neighboring constellations for Canis Minor. Click for full-screen.

In the next section, you’ll discover how to find Canis Minor.

How To Find Canis Minor In The Night Sky

Canis Minor is part of the Orion family of constellations and is an equatorial constellation visible to observers at latitudes between +90° and -75°.

Northern Hemisphere observers can see it from December to April and Southern Hemisphere observers can see it from November to April.

The constellation of Canis Minor is bordered by the constellations Cancer, Gemini, Hydra and Monoceros. 

Canis Minor at 9:00 p.m. on the 6th of March
Canis Minor at 9:00 p.m. on the 6th of March. Click for full-screen.

To find Canis Minor, do a naked-eye search for Orion. Draw an imaginary line ~7° long from Bellatrix to Betelgeuse (both in Orion’s shoulders) then extend this line ~30° to Procyon (Alpha Canis Minoris). You can measure these distances with your hand held at arm’s length in front of you.

To find Canis Minor’s exact position for your location on any night, use software such as Stellarium (free) or SkySafari.

Canis Minor’s Brightest Stars 

Being a small constellation, Canis Minor doesn’t contain many stars brighter than magnitude five. The few there are are shown in the star chart below and described in more detail underneath that.

The brightest stars of Canis Minor
The brightest stars of Canis Minor. Click for full-screen.

Alpha Canis Minoris (Procyon, Anneka) – This double star is the brightest star in Canis Minor and the eighth brightest star in the night sky. The magnitude 0.40, yellow-white, subgiant primary and its magnitude 10.80, white dwarf secondary component are 5.0 arcseconds apart.

Procyon is the eastern anchor of the ‘Winter Triangle’ and a part of the ‘Winter Hexagon’. It is so bright, in part, because it’s only 11.4 light-years away, making it one of the closest stars to Earth. (See how many stars there are within 100 light-years).

‘Procyon’ means ‘before the dog’ in Greek and refers to the fact the Procyon rises before Sirius (Alpha Canis Majoris).

Beta Canis Minoris (Gomesia) – This variable double star is the second brightest star in Canis Minor and is 170 light-years away. The magnitude 2.89, blue-white, main sequence primary and magnitude 13.00, secondary component are 49.0 arcseconds apart. ‘Gomesia’ means ‘little bleary-eyed one’ in Arabic.

Gamma Canis Minoris – This variable double star is the third brightest star in Canis Minor. The magnitude 4.32, orange giant primary and magnitude 13.30 secondary component are 26.9 arcseconds apart. It is part of a multiple star system 318 light-years away from us. 

Epsilon Canis Minoris – This magnitude 4.98, orange giant is 1,042 light-years away. Its mass is 1.1 Solar masses and it has a diameter 44 times larger than the sun’s.

Zeta Canis Minoris – This magnitude 5.13, blue-white bright giant is 624 light-years away. Its mass is 7.0 Solar masses, its diameter is 4.3 Solar diameters and it’s 2.6 times hotter than the Sun. 

Eta Canis Minoris – This double star is 318 light-years away. The magnitude 5.23, yellow-white giant, primary and magnitude 11.10, secondary component are 4.1 arcseconds apart. This may be a multiple system. 

Star Hopping From Canis Minor 

Canis Minor is the starting point for one well known star hop, the open cluster M48 in Hydra.

M48 – Identify Procyon. Draw an imaginary line ~4° from Gomeisa to Procyon then extend this line ~8° southeast to 28 Monocerotis, ~2.5° southeast to Zeta Monocerotis, and then ~2.5° southeast to M48.

Objects To See Within Canis Minor 

Canis Minor contains no Messier objects and no other deep sky objects suitable for small telescope users. 

Summary

Canis Minor is a small constellation containing only a few bright but colorful stars, including one of the brightest in the night sky.

Sadly, there are no deep sky objects for small telescope users.

Hop to its brightest star, Procyon, from Orion, or spot it as part of the ‘Winter Triangle’ and ‘Winter Hexagon’ asterisms this winter.

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