When someone refers to the "Dog Days of Summer" we usually think of very hot dogs panting in the shade on a hot day. While apt, this is not what the phrase refers to. So how did this saying come to be?
Astrology And Meteorology
"Dog Days of Summer" refers to the time of year when Sirius, the brightest start in the constellation Canis Major (which means Big Dog in Latin) is at its highest. In mythology, Sirius is one of Orion's hunting dogs.
To the Greeks and Romans, during the dog days, or diēs caniculārēs, Sirius appears to rise and set alongside the Sun. It was believed that the extra heat from the dog star caused the hottest days of the year.
For ancient Romans, the dog days of summer occurred from around July 24 to around August 24. Over time, however, the constellations have drifted and today, The Old Farmer's Almanac lists the timing as from July 3 until August 11.
Is This Accurate?
So are the "Dog Days of Summer" really the hottest time of the year? In Virginia, July and August are indeed the hottest months of the year. The average high temperatures are 87.5°F and 85.7°F respectively. If going by astrology, however, the location of Sirius doesn't always neatly correspond with the heat.
According to Larry Ciupik with the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, the earth wobbles in its rotation and effects where the constelations appear in the night sky. In fact, because of this wobble, the stars shift position approximately 1° in our view of them every 50 years.
This means that what the ancient Greeks and Romans saw in the night sky doesn't match what we see today, and several millennia from now, the dog days probably won't occur in Summer at all in the Northern Hemisphere, but will in the Southern.
So perhaps then, the "Dog Days of Winter" will refer to man's best friend's encampment by the fireplace rather than in the shade of a tree.
What do you like to do during the "Dog Days of Summer?" How do you stay cool?
And remember, if you have our Equipment Breakdown Coverage, your air conditioning could qualify for repair if it fails you during our sweltering summer weather!
Sources: National Geographic, RSS Weather, Wonderopolis