The Brightest Stars in the Sky: A Starry Countdown

Orion Over Green Fields India Talwar
Veteran astrophotographer Ajay Talwar of the photography group The World at Night captured this image of Orion from Uttarakhand, India, on Dec. 19, 2012.
(Image: © Ajay Talwar / The World at Night )

Star Light, Star Bright ...

Clara Moskowitz/SPACE.com

The night sky can be a wondrous place filled with stars, but there are some brilliant celestial lights that shine brighter than others.

Astronomers measure the brightness of stars, planets and other night sky objects using a scale called magnitude. The lower the magnitude number an object has, the brighter it shines. (Objects with negative numbers are exceptionally bright.)

Here's a look at the brightest stars in the night (and day) sky based on their "apparent magnitude," which is how bright they appear from Earth.

FIRST STOP: Achernar

Achernar

University of Illinois.

The star Achernar lies in the constellation of Eridanus. The star has an apparent magnitude of 0.46 and an absolute magnitude of -1.3. It lies 69 light-years from Earth. [See our facts about Achernar.]

NEXT: Procyon

Procyon

StarryNightEducation

Next on the brightness list is Procyon, which is located in the constellation of Canis Minor (the lesser dog), 11.4 light-years from Earth. The star has an apparent magnitude of 0.38 and an absolute magnitude of 2.6. Image: Procyon, Betelgeuse and Sirius form the Winter Triangle. [See our facts about Procyon.]

NEXT: Rigel

Rigel

Rogelio Bernal Andreo / NASA

The star Rigel lies in the constellation of Orion, 1,400 light-years from Earth. The star has an apparent magnitude of 0.12 and an absolute magnitude of -8.1. Image: Light from the star Rigel reflects off the dust composing the Witch Head Nebula. [See our facts about Rigel.]

NEXT: Capella

Capella

Starry Night Software

Capella lies in the constellation of Auriga, 41 light-years from Earth. The star has an apparent magnitude of 0.08 and an absolute magnitude of 0.4. Image: This sky map shows the location of Capella, a bright star also known as the "Goat Star," in the constellation Auriga, the Charioteer. [See our facts about Capella.]

NEXT: Vega

Vega

The star Vega (of "Contact" fame) lies in the constellation of Lyra, 25 light-years from Earth. The star has an apparent magnitude of 0.03 and an absolute magnitude of 0.6. Image: The Milky Way shines over western Iowa, August 31, 2013. The bright star Vega stands out at top center. [See our facts about Vega.]

NEXT: Arcturus

Arcturus

The bright star Arcturus lies in the constellation of Boötes, 34 light-years from Earth. The star has an apparent magnitude of -0.04 and an absolute magnitude of 0.2. Image: A lunar halo glows over Mersing, Malaysia. Venus appears at the bottom right with Saturn near the top of the moon. The fourth brightest star in the night sky, Arcturus, is seen near the top right corner. [See our facts about Arcturus.]

NEXT: Rigil Kentaurus

Rigil Kentaurus

ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2

Rigil Kentaurus is the third brightest star in the night sky, though its brightness is due to the proximity of the system — commonly known as Alpha Centauri — which is the sun's closest neighbor, about 4.3 light-years away from Earth. The star is located in the Centaurus constellation, and has an apparent magnitude of -0.27 and an absolute magnitude of 4.4. [See our facts about Rigel Kentaurus.]

NEXT: Canopus

Canopus

NASA

Canopus lies in the constellation of Carina, 74 light-years from Earth. The star has an apparent magnitude of -0.72 and an absolute magnitude of -2.5. Image: Canopus, the second-brightest star in the sky, is visible in this view photographed by astronaut Donald R. Pettit, Expedition Six NASA ISS science officer, on board the International Space Station. [See our facts about Canopus.]

NEXT: Sirius

Sirius

NASA, H.E. Bond and E. Nelan (Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.); M. Barstow and M. Burleigh (University of Leicester, U.K.); and J.B. Holberg (University of Arizona)

Sirius lies in the constellation of Canis Major, 8.6 light-years from Earth. The star has an apparent magnitude of -1.46 and an absolute magnitude of 1.4. Image: This Hubble Space Telescope image shows Sirius A, the brightest star in our nighttime sky, along with its faint, tiny stellar companion, Sirius B. [See our facts about Sirius, the Dog Star.]

NEXT: The Sun

Sun

Greg Diesel Walck

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