• Stars & Science Austin

The Brightest Stars of Spring

Written by: Bobby Corley


As indicated in the last article regarding Venus, there are several bright stars one gets to see in the nighttime. Let us start with the constellation Taurus, which currently contains the planet Venus. Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation of Taurus the Bull is an orange star and is only 65 light-years away.


The star itself represents one of the Bull’s eyes, fueled with rage. Aldebaran is the 13th brightest star in the entire night sky. Directly below Taurus, we have the constellation of Orion the Hunter, a prominent winter constellation that can currently be seen in the Northwest. This contains the 7th brightest star in the night sky and the brightest star in the constellation itself, Rigel, about 862 light-years away.


Betelgeuse is the second brightest star in Orion. The 10th brightest star in the night sky. This star is so huge that imagined as being at the center of the Solar System, its surface would lie beyond the asteroid belt and it would engulf the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and possibly Jupiter.

A light year is the actual distance light travels in one year. Its speed is about 186,000 miles a second and it covers about 6 trillion miles in one year. So, the light we see from Aldebaran is from 65 years ago, and the light we see from Rigel is from 862 years ago! It is like looking back into time!


The brightest star in the entire nighttime sky can be found in Canis Major, the Great Dog. It is called Sirius As a matter of fact, in the Harry Potter movies and novels, the character called Sirius Black (played by Gary Oldman) turns into a dog. Rowling named him after the Dog Star. Sirius is quite close to us, only 9 light-years away and a white dwarf star orbits it! It is also the 5th brightest object overall after the Sun, Moon, and the planets Venus and Jupiter!


The fourth brightest star in the night sky can be found rising in the northeast at about 7:30 pm. It is Arcturus in Boötes, the Herdsman. It is only 36 light-years away and like Aldebaran is a very orange-colored star. The best way to find Arcturus is by following the arc of the handle: “arc to Arcturus.”


Directly overhead after sunset is the 6th brightest star in the night sky, Capella.

It is only about 43 light-years away and its size and color are the same as our sun, Capella is the brightest star in the constellation of Auriga the Charioteer. This star will be changing over time because according to astronomers, the star just ended its main-sequence stage and is in the process of evolving into a red giant! That means it will be getting brighter and more orange.


Procyon is the 7th brightest star in the night sky and the brightest in Canis Minor, the Little Dog. It is only 11 light-years distant and with Sirius and Betelgeuse in Orion make up an asterism called the Winter Triangle. Right above Canis Minor is Gemini, the Twins. According to Greek mythology, these were the lads helped Jason and the Argonauts search for the golden fleece.

In a few months, there will be more bright stars rising to become the Summer Nighttime sky. Watch out for them! Just remember as your looking at these objects, you are seeing them as they were many years ago.

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