There is an article in the paper today that has made me very hopeful indeed. The sighting of a bright light in the night sky just before sunrise at this time of year traditionally signals the end of the summer heat and a return to more moderate weather.
Visible due south in the early hours before sunrise, Suhail, also known as Canopus, is part of the Vela constellation and is the second brightest star in the sky after Sirius. This astral body has always held a great significance to the people of the Middle East, it’s rise marks the start of the farmer’s agricultural calendar or droror, which begins with the star’s sighting and is then measured in 10 or 13 day micro-seasons known as dir. In addition it traditionally marks the start of the hunting season. As hunters had to endure days of travelling through the desert they presumably would have used this signal to know cooler weather was on the way and therefore a good time to head out.
“Suhail’s appearance means the beginning of the end of summer: the days begin to get shorter and temperatures begin to decrease,” explained Rashad Bukhash, the director of the architectural heritage department at Dubai Municipality.
Camel grazing, studding and palm pollination can commence between 70 and 80 days after the star appears.
Unfortunately global warming has meant that the arrival of the star of Suhail in the heavens is no guarantee that cooler weather is in fact on the way.
“It is not as accurate as it was in the old times due to global changes in the weather,” said Mr Al Hariri, chief executive of the Dubai Astronomy Group who has been monitoring Suhail’s rise since 2004.
A common joke among elders these days is “Did your calendar work this year?”
If meteorologists’ predictions are right then we are all in for disappointment this year as temperatures are expected to remain in the mid-40s for at least the next two weeks.
The star, which appears every year about this time and stays visible in the night sky until May, has been observed by populations dating as far back as the Ancient Egyptians and is often mentioned in Arab poetry, stories, and Bedouin sayings. Many people also considered it to have healing powers; as the weather improved people naturally felt healthier which they then attributed to, and linked with, the star’s appearance.
The northern limit of visibility for the star is latitude 37°18′ north, slightly south of cities like Athens and San Francisco. This probably explains why it remains obscure in western culture as it would not have been visible to the Romans or the Ancient Greeks.
Suhail is still used to find the direction of Mecca, and due to its brightness and location is also used for navigation in space. Many space craft, including those used by Nasa, carry a special camera known as a Canopus Star Tracker.