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This Week: Can You Spot These 11 Bright Stars? (March 2018)

These eleven first-magnitude stars are the most that one can see at one time at any time of the year! Learn when and where to look.

Step outside this week between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. local Daylight Time and you’ll be able to count no fewer than eleven first-magnitude stars. There are 21 stars that rank as first magnitude and fifteen are visible at one time or another from the latitude of New York.

Visible First-Magnitude Stars

One object that outshines them all is the planet Jupiter that is visible low in the east-southeast. But the eleven first magnitude stars that are currently visible are the most that one can see at one time at any time of the year. They are, in order of brightness:

  1. Sirius in Canis Major the Big Dog, about to set low in the southwest
  2. Arcturus in Boötes the Herdsman, halfway up in the east
  3. Vega in Lyra the Lyre, rising in the northeast
  4. Capella in Auriga the Charioteer in the northwest, going down
  5. Procyon in Canis Minor the Little Dog, south of due west, going down
  6. Betelegeuse in Orion the Hunter low in the west
  7. Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull, setting north of due west
  8. Pollux in Gemini the Twins, halfway down in the west
  9. Spica in Virgo the Virgin, in the southeast
  10. Deneb in Cygnus the Swan, rising above the northeast horizon
  11. Regulus in Leo the Lion, high in the south

Like gems balanced on scale pans with Polaris, the North Star at the fulcrum, we can see the soon-to-be departing yellowish Capella, sinking in the northwest and the oncoming bluish-white Vega glittering just above the horizon in the northeast. Intrinsically, Capella is more than three and a half times as luminous as Vega, but at 42 light years it’s also 1.7 times farther away, so Vega appears about 5 percent brighter!

Because they’re relatively close to the Pole, both Capella and Vega can be seen, for a short while at least, on any night of the year, though not always at a convenient hour.

Joe Rao is an astronomer and contributes regularly to the Farmers' Almanac.

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