Many people think that the Polaris, aka “the North Star,” is the brightest star in the sky. Actually, Polaris is about the 47th brightest star in the nighttime sky. So, you may ask, what exactly are the brightest stars? Here is the list of the top 10 brightest stars you can see in our nighttime sky.
1 – Sirius
(Alpha Canis Majoris)
The brightest star in the entire night sky is named Sirius. Located further south of the celestial equator at -16.7°, it is visible from virtually the entire planet. White, with a magnitude of -1.5 and a distance of about 8 light-years, is the main star of the constellation Canis Major (The Greater Dog), so it is also known as the Dog Star.
Important since ancient times, in ancient Egypt it marked the beginning of the Nile flood, which is essential for the agricultural survival of this well-known civilization.
2 – Canopus
The second brightest star, after Sirius, with a visual magnitude of -0.72. It is the main component of Carina (The keel), and in the works of Homer represents Canopus, the pilot of the ship of King Menelaus. As it is a star of the deep Southern Hemisphere, south of Bahía Blanca (Argentina) and Valdivia (Chile), it is circumpolar, which means it never sets below the horizon. However, it is not visible from anywhere in Europe, requiring latitudes from 20 ° N for contemplation. It is a yellowish-white giant.
3 – Rigil Kentaurus (Alpha Centauri)
The third brightest star is a system consisting of three components, the main of which is a yellow magnitude -0.01, but considering that the system can’t be resolved with the naked eye, its magnitude -0.29 jointly makes it occupy this place. Found in the constellation of Centaurus, just 4.36 light-years from our solar system, constituting the closest system. One of its components, Proxima Centauri, is the star that is closest to us, 4.23 light-years away. It is a very small Red Star, only visible with powerful telescopes. The system is not visible at higher latitudes of 20 ° N. Centaur is one of the best known classical myths, it’s Chiron, a creature with the body and legs of a horse and man torso and arms.
4 – Arcturus
The fourth star in order of brightness is the main member of the Bootes constellation, visible at latitudes up to 50 ° S, and is the brightest of the northern Celestial Hemisphere, presenting a magnitude of -0.04.
It is an orange giant about 37 light years away, and that is the most prominent in the spring sky.
In the picture appears compared with the Sun.
It was known in ancient Greece as The Guardian Bear, from which it derives its name, which is a reference to its proximity to the constellations of the Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.
5 – Vega
The fifth brightest star. It is the principal component of Lyra, boreal summer constellation, visible up to 40 º S. It is a white star of the main sequence, which means that it is still transforming its hydrogen into helium as a result of combustion. It was taken as “zero value” to be a reference with the others star magnitudes, but further measurements have diverted this value to +0.03. Along with Altair (Alpha Aquilae) and Deneb (Alpha Cygni), it forms the so-called Summer Triangle, an important reference for the night sky orientation of this boreal season. There is also a Winter Triangle, formed by Betelgeuse, Sirius and Procyon, which we discussed in the article about Orion.
In hellenistic classical mythology, it is the lyre of the Muses, invented by Hermes, who gave it to Apollo in reparation for a burglary he committed against him. Apollo in turn gave it to Orpheus, and when he died, Zeus turned the Lyre into a constellation.
6 – Capella
It is the most important star in the constellation of Auriga (The Driver) and, with magnitude +0.08, the sixth brightest in the entire sky. This is the closest first magnitude star to the north celestial pole, making it impossible to observe from latitudes below 40 º S. It is located about 42 light years from us and it is a multiple star system, consisting of two yellow binaries.
There are many versions the myth of the Auriga, the most enduring is that of a human figure with a goat in his arms.
7 – Rigel
The seventh brightest star around the night sky is a star system located in the constellation of Orion: Rigel (pictured next to the Witch Head Nebula, in the constellation of the River Eridanus). It has a a visual magnitude of +0.18 and is found about 860 light years from our solar system. The main component is a blue-white giant, which is identified with the left foot of Orion the, right one as we see. The constellation of Orion, the giant hunter in Greek mythology, was the subject of extensive work in this very blog, and can be found in the section Constellations.
8 – Procyon
Alpha Canis Minoris
This star, the most important of the constellation of Canis Minor (The Lesser Dog), is ranked eighth on our list. Is a binary whose primary component is a white-yellow subgiant. It lies at an approximate distance of 11 light-years from Earth. It forms, along with Betelgeuse, and Sirius, the so called Winter Triangle, already quoted above.
Along with Sirius, the other “Dog Star”, was already worshiped by the ancient Egyptians, and appears in Babylonian texts.
9 – Achernar
It is the ninth brightest star in the night sky, and the second to last on our list. It constitutes the principal luminary in the constellation of of the River Eridanus, with magnitude +0.45. Located at 144 light-years away, it is white-blue, and can be viewed from latitudes above 30 º N, because it is a circumpolar south star.
The constellation of Eridanus represented several rivers, like the Nile, the Euphrates or the Po, due to its elongated shape that takes you from Orion to almost the South Celestial Pole.
10 – Betelgeuse
The tenth brightest, and the one that closes our particular list, is the star Betelgeuse, a beautiful red supergiant, which would reach its maximum size beyond the orbit of Mars, if it was situated in the place of Sun. It is identified with the right shoulder of Orion, to the left as we observe it. It is estimated to be at a distance of 640 light years from the Solar System.