Top 10 Brightest Stars in the Night SkyIn order of apparent visual magnitude, these are the brightest stars as seen from Earth (excluding the Sun, of course). Credit for each star's description goes to Wikipedia.
The Top Ten Brightest Stars in the Night Sky
Sirius’ name is derived from an Ancient Greek word meaning "glowing" or "scorcher”. During the summer months, it is referred to as the “morning star” because it appears just before sunrise. The ‘star’ is actually two stars orbiting each other in what is known as a binary system. It consists of a white main sequence star, designated Sirius A, and a faint white dwarf companion, named Sirius B. Sirius A is about twice as massive as the Sun. At a distance of 2.6 parsecs (8.6 light-years), it is one of Earth’s near neighbors.
The heliacal rising of Sirius marked the flooding of the Nile in Ancient Egypt and the "dog days" of summer for the ancient Greeks (hence, why it is also called the “Dog Star”).
It’s name is generally considered to originate from the mythological Canopus, who was a navigator for Menelaus, king of Sparta. It is the brightest star in the southern constellation of Carina and is 95 parsecs (310 light-years) from Earth. The diameter of the star is about 70 times the diameter of the Sun. If Canopus was placed at the centre of the Solar System, it would extend almost to the orbit of Mercury.
Being located in the southern night sky, Canopus is a star the Polynesians used for navigation. It served as the southern wingtip of a "Great Bird" constellation called Manu, with Sirius as the body and Procyon the northern wingtip, which divided the Polynesian night sky into two hemispheres.
Also called Rigel Centaurus, Alpha Centauri is the closest star system to the Sun at a distance of 4.37 light-years (1.34 parsecs). It consists of three stars: the pair Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B and a small and faint red dwarf, Proxima Centauri. To the unaided eye, the two main components appear as a single object and form the brightest star in the southern constellation Centaurus.
To the Australian aboriginal Boorong people, Alpha and Beta Centauri are Bermbermgle, two brothers noted for their courage and destructiveness, who speared and killed Tchingal "The Emu" (the Coalsack Nebula).
Arcturus is the brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere. The name of the star derives from Ancient Greek and means "Guardian of the Bear" or “watcher, guardian". It is a relatively close star at only 36.7 light-years (11.26 parsecs) from Earth and is a red giant about 110 times brighter than the Sun.
In Ancient Rome, the star's celestial activity was supposed to signal tempestuous weather.
Vega's name comes from a loose transliteration of the Arabic word meaning "falling" or "landing", it is also called "the falling eagle.” Vega is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra and the second brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere. It is a relatively close star at only 25 light-years (7 parsecs) from Earth.
It is rotating rapidly with a velocity of 274 km/s at the equator. This is causing the equator to bulge outward because of centrifugal forces.
To the ancient Greeks, the constellation Lyra was formed from the harp of Orpheus, with Vega as its handle. For the Roman Empire, the start of autumn was based upon the hour at which Vega set below the horizon.
Also designated Alpha Aurigae, Capella is the brightest star in the constellation of Auriga. It is actually a star system of four stars in two binary pairs. The Capella system is relatively close, at only 42.8 light-years (13.1 pc) from the Sun.
In Inuit astronomy, Capella, along with Menkalinan (Beta Aurigae), Pollux (Beta Geminorum) and Castor (Alpha Geminorum), formed a constellation Quturjuuk, "collar-bones", the two pairs of stars denoting a bone each. Used for navigation and time-keeping at night, the constellation was recognised from Alaska to western Greenland.
Also designated Beta Orionis, Rigel is the brightest star in the constellation of Orion, marking the foot of the hunter. The star, as seen from Earth, is actually a triple or quadruple star system, with the primary star (Rigel A) a blue-white supergiant that is estimated to be anywhere from 120,000 to 279,000 times as luminous as the Sun. Rigel B is itself a binary system, consisting of two main sequence blue-white stars that are estimated to be 3.9 and 2.9 times as massive as the Sun. Rigel is 860 light-years (260 parsecs) away.
Rigel is also one of the most important stars used in celestial navigation throughout the history of oceanic sailing. This is due to both the star's relative brightness and its equatorial location, making it visible in most ocean latitudes.
Procyon's name comes from the Ancient Greek phrase meaning "before the dog", since it precedes the "Dog Star" Sirius as it travels across the sky due to Earth's rotation. It is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Minor. Procyon is another binary system, consisting of a white, main sequence star, named Procyon A, and a faint white dwarf named Procyon B. The reason for its brightness is not its intrinsic luminosity but its relative closeness to the Sun. It lies at a distance of just 11.46 light-years (3.51 parsecs), and is therefore one of Earth's nearest stellar neighbors.
The Hawaiians saw Procyon as part of an asterism Ke ka o Makali'i ("the canoe bailer of Makali'i") that helped them navigate at sea.
Also designated Alpha Eridani, Achernar is the brightest star in the constellation of Eridanus. Of the ten apparent brightest stars in the night sky, Achernar is the hottest and bluest in color and is about 3,150 times more luminous than the Sun. Like Vega, the star has an unusually rapid rotational velocity, causing it to become oblate in shape. It is part of a binary star system that is approximately 139 light-years (43 pc) away.
As Achernar is in the deep southern sky, the Ancient Greeks and Romans were not able to see this star.
Betelgeuse’s name is derived from the Arabic phrase meaning, "the hand of Orion". Also known as Alpha Orionis, it is the second-brightest star in the constellation of Orion. The star is classified as a red supergiant and is one of the largest and most luminous observable stars. If Betelgeuse were at the center of the Solar System, its surface would extend past the asteroid belt, possibly to the orbit of Jupiter and beyond, wholly engulfing Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. The star is 643 light-years (197 parsecs) away.
Betelgeuse and its red coloration have been noted since antiquity and, like the planet Mars that derives its name from a Roman war god, has been closely associated with the martial archetype of conquest.