x

Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Appearance of Suhail star means summer is drawing to a close

For astronomers and the eagle-eyed, this is the time when the second-­brightest star in the sky, known as Suhail in Arabic and Canopus in the West, can be seen rising, just above the southern horizon

The sun sets behind a palm tree along the Corniche across from Mina Zayed in Abu Dhabi. Christopher Pike / The National
The sun sets behind a palm tree along the Corniche across from Mina Zayed in Abu Dhabi. Christopher Pike / The National

At times, I have suspected that I may be deluding myself, but in this past week, it has started to feel as if the year has turned a corner and summer is finally drawing to an end.

The lawns that line Al Karamah Street may still look like the fur on my daughter’s teddy bear, but where they are green, they’re thriving, and the palm trees, now date-free, no longer look quite so dusty or lank.

In the morning, my short walk from taxi to office no longer provokes uncontrollable bouts of sweating, and when I arrive home in the evening, my spirits are lifted by the sight of the giggling staff from a nearby beauty parlour playing street badminton with the scooter-driving delivery boys from one of the shops nearby.

All of these signals, however, are peripheral in comparison to the onset of yet another school year.

For my academic friends, this has ­already started, albeit with classes that will remain bereft of students until well after Eid Al Adha, while in my household, we have started buying new stationery, school shoes, swimming hats and socks as a way of preparing our children for new teachers, classmates and the onset of homework.

If all that sounds fanciful, this week has also been defined by an important celestial shift that has been used to define the passing of the seasons in Arabia since time immemorial.

For astronomers and the eagle-eyed, this is the time when the second-­brightest star in the sky, known as Suhail in Arabic and Canopus in the West, can be seen rising, just above the southern horizon.

According to Al Drour, the ­traditional Arabic calendar, the ­appearance of Suhail not only ­heralds the onset of more-bearable ­weather, but it also marks the end of the ­summer-long pearl-diving season.

Consisting of 365 days, the Drour calendar is divided into four seasons, three of which last for 100 days, while the fourth lasts for 60. The remaining five are traditionally referred to as the five stolen days.

One of its basic units of the system, a der, refers to a week-like batch of 10 days. The plural of der is drour, hence the calendar’s name.

Traditionally, Al Drour and the ­astronomical knowledge and ­technology that helped to create it is credited as one of the driving forces behind the great feats of Arab maritime navigation and the exploits of seafarers such as the navigator Ahmad ibn Majid, who is also ­believed to have guided the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama to India.

Suhail also has age-old maritime ­associations in the West. Before it ­became known as Canopus, the star was called Alpha Carinae, the ­brightest star in a now-defunct ­constellation, Carina the Keel, a celestial version of the Argo, the boat that bore the mythological Jason and his Argonauts on their quest for the Golden Fleece.

As the second-brightest star in the sky, Suhail is believed to have been as important to Arab navigators as Alpha Carinae was for the ancient Greeks.

Now that the star has returned to Abu Dhabi’s skies, let’s hope we will have plain sailing as we navigate our collective way through the end of summer.

The heat hasn’t left us completely. Not yet.