Bright Stars Worth Knowing

by John P. Pratt
©1998 by John P. Pratt. All rights Reserved.

Astronomy Home Page

There are fifteen bright (first magnitude) stars visible from all of the United States. There is something worth remembering about all fifteen, as listed in this table in order of brightness. I tried to cut the list to ten, but you would have been cheated. For the students in my class, the eight on which you will be tested are marked with an asterisk. All of these are much brighter intrinsically than the sun, which would only appear as an average (4th magnitude) star in our sky. There is also a list of other stars worth knowing.

The Fifteen Brightest Stars Visible in U.S.A.

NameLocationWhat to Remember
1. Sirius* (SI-ree-us)Big DogAppears to be the brightest of all stars because it is nearest of those on this list (9 l.y.). It is white, but before Christ it was called red. Has white dwarf companion.
2. Arcturus* (ark-TOO-rus)HerdsmanTo find, follow "arc" of Big Dipper. Orange Giant.
3. Vega (VEE-ga)LyreNearby White Main Sequence. In summer Triangle.
4. Capella* (ka-PELL-la)CharioteerNearly always above horizon.
5. Rigel* (RYE-jell)Foot of OrionVery Distant Blue supergiant: greatest true brightness on this list. Dominates our Orion arm of our Galaxy.
6. Procyon (PRO-see-on)Little DogNear to Sirius and 2nd closest on this list (11 l.y.). Also has white dwarf companion, like Sirius.
7. Betelgeuse* (BETT-ul-jooz)Shoulder of OrionHuge red supergiant, the size of the orbit of Jupiter. In Orion cluster with Rigel and on the celestial equator.
8. Altair (al-TAIR)Head of the EagleNearby White Main Sequence. In summer Triangle.
9. Aldebaran* (al-DEB-a-ran)Eye the BullRed Giant. One of 4 royal stars near ecliptic.
10. Antares* (an-TAIR-ees)Heart of the ScorpionRed Supergiant, almost as large as Betelgeuse. One of 4 royal stars near ecliptic.
11. Spica (SPY-ka)Keep following arc past Acturus.Nearby Blue Main Sequence, just below ecliptic.
12. Pollux (PAUL-uks)Head of Twin nearest eclipticOrange Giant just above ecliptic. The other twin is Castor, which just missed being in top 15 (it's #17).
13. Fomalhaut (FOE-mal-ott)Southern FishOne of 4 royal stars; somewhat below the ecliptic.
14. Deneb (DEN-ebb)Tail of the Swan The most distant on this list: 1,500 l.y.; one of the brightest stars intrinsically. In summer triangle.
15. Regulus* (reg-YOU-lus)Heart of the LionLeader of 4 royal stars, almost exactly on ecliptic.