The second brightest star in the sky, Canopus is not visible from Britain; however form Australia at this time of the year it is high in the sky. The magnitude of Canopus is -0.7 and is officially known as alpha Carinae (The Keel).
At one time Carina was the brightest star in the constellation of Argo Navis this was the ship that Jason and the Argonauts used in their quest for the Golden Fleece. Argo Navis was so large and unwieldy that it was broken up into Carine (the Keel), Puppis (the Poop), Vela (the Sails) and Pyxis (the Compass).
Canopus lies about 300 light years away, because it is so bright it is very easy to find. In fact Canopus has a diameter over 70 times that of the Sun!
This star occurs in various science fiction stories, In "Dune" written by Frank Herbert, the dusty planet of Arrakis (the setting of the first book in particular) is one of the planets circling Canopus. It also featured in several Star Trek stories including "The Eye of the Beholder" and "Where No Man Has Gone Before."