Artorius Castus

Spot the Brightest Star in the Sky

Posted in Uncategorized by Patrick Truax on March 14, 2008

An increasingly bright gibbous moon will obscure many of the dimmer stars in our sky during this week, but certainly not Sirius, the Dog Star, the brightest star in the night sky.

Many astronomy books suggest you can locate Sirius by using the belt of Orion; that the belt points southeast directly toward Sirius. That’s absolutely true, although all anyone needs to do is simply cast a glance toward the southern sky these cold late winter evenings after it gets dark and you’ll immediately see Sirius. It will be due south between 7:30 and 8 p.m. local daylight time all of this week, and won’t set in the southwest until around 1 a.m.

Sirius is the brightest star of the constellation Canis Major, the “Greater Dog,” in Latin. According to Burnham’s Celestial Handbook other names for it include “The Sparkling One” or “The Scorching One.”

This star appears a brilliant white with a tinge of blue, but when the air is unsteady, or when it is low to the horizon it seems to flicker and splinter with all the colors of the rainbow. At a distance of just 8.7 light years — just over 50 trillion miles — Sirius is the fifth-nearest known star. Among the naked-eye stars, it is the nearest of all, with the sole exception of Alpha Centauri. This also explains why the Dog Star is one of handful of stars that seemed to have shifted in relation to their neighbor stars since people first started making records of the sky: its direction in the sky changes as much as the apparent width of the full moon over a span of 1,500-years.

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