December 30, 2021: As the year ends and the new one opens, the night sky’s brightest star – Sirius – is in the southern sky at the midnight hour.
By Jeffrey L. Hunt
As the year ends and a new one opens, the bright stars of winter’s evening sky creep across the eastern horizon during the early evening hours. Orion, the season’s flagship constellation, is low in the eastern sky after sundown.
Sirius, the night sky’s brightest star, follows Orion in the eastern sky about two hours after the Hunter appears.
While Sirius appears the brightest, it seems that way because it is close to the solar system compared to the other stars. It is the seventh closest star to the sun and the second nearest after the Alpha Centauri system.
Sirius is blue-white and shines with an intensity of less than 50 suns.
Sirius, Procyon, and Betelgeuse make the Winter Triangle shape.
In comparison, Procyon is intrinsically dimmer than Sirius and nearly 50% farther away. The Little Dog Star is about 10 times brighter than our sun. With these qualities, Procyon is the sixth brightest star visible from the mid-northern latitudes.
Betelgeuse is on the remaining corner of the triangle. This star is highly unusual compared to the sun’s neighbors. It appears as the seventh brightest star visible from the latitudes near and north of Chicago. The star is about 500 light years away. It shines with the intensity of nearly 100,00 suns.
Betelgeuse is known as a red supergiant. Such stars are near the end of their life cycles. The star is known to vary in brightness. A few years ago, light dimmed dramatically. There was some guessing that the star was about to explode, although observations indicated that the star was casting off dust that blocked our view, making the star dim to us. A Twitter account follows the star brightness. Follow @betelbot on the social media platform to monitor the star’s varying brightness.
Take a look for the bright winter stars during the early evening hours. New Year’s revelers can find Sirius and the Winter Triangle in the southern sky at the midnight hour.
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