Bright Stars in the East and the West


UPDATE: August 2009.  If you’ve come here seeking information on the bright object in the East in the evening, that is Jupiter.

Once again, pandering shamefully to the search engines, here I go.

People come here looking for information on bright stars.  Usually these come in the evening (my time) so I’m assuming with no rational basis whatsoever, that people are looking for information on bright stars they have seen in the early evening (when most people notice bright stars in the sky).

The two main culprits are:

Venus in the West (pops out before any star) which of course is *not* a star, but a planet.  Venus reaches its maximum magnitude in late January early February.  This occurs as the phase of Venus wanes more and more, so that even though it is getting closer to us, less of it is illuminated.   Venus reaches it’s maximum elongation (angle of separation from the Sun) on Wednesday January 14th.   A good pair of binoculars or a small telescope will reveal the shape.  Use the search box in the right widget bar to look for ‘venus’ for my other posts on this subject.

Sky around SiriusSirius in the East: Sirius means ‘scorching’, and aside from the Sun, Sirius is the brightest star in our sky.  It is also called the ‘Dog Star’ because it is the brightest star in the constellation of Canis Major (The Big Dog).   Some people refer to it as ‘the Eye of the Dog’.   It follows Orion up from the eastern horizon, rising at about 6:30 PM  and is clearly visible by 7:30 or 8:00 pm in most locations.  I sometimes refer to Sirius as the ‘Police Star’, because it is so bright that the ‘twinkling’ effect of the atmosphere can produce prismatic colors.  So watching Sirius you may see it flicker blue, red and white.   This only happens with the brightest stars, and only when they are low to the horizon.  It happens more frequently in Winter because of the generally denser air.

Some of the other bright stars near Sirus at this time of year: Betelgeuse, the left shoulder of Orion; Rigel, the right foot of Orion, Aldeberan, the eye of the Bull (just above Orion),  Procyon, the bright star in Canis Minor, and Pollux, which is designated as beta Geminorum, but is brighter than alpha Geminorum (Castor).  This leads some astronomers to suspect that either Castor or Pollux has changed in brightness in the last 400 years.

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5 thoughts on “Bright Stars in the East and the West

  1. Pingback: Daylight Venus, redux « AstroGeek

  2. I have noticed these too very bright lights to the east and west and i am willing to believe 1 of them is the dog star but its now july could the other still be venus? or is it more likely mars?

    • Hi Phil;

      That post was from January. At this point Sirius (the dog star) is close to the Sun, so you’re not seeing it, and Venus rises just before dawn. The bright light in the West in the early evening is most likely Saturn, and the bright object in the East after 11:00 PM is most likely Jupiter.

      A good place to figure out what you are looking at is Sky & Telescope’s interactive sky chart at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/skychart/

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