Total Nerd
61.7k readers

The 20 Brightest Stars in the Sky

Updated June 14, 2019 61.7k views20 items

Determined by Apparent Magnitude, these are the 20 brightest stars in the sky from brightest to ... less bright. Magnitude measures brightness as seen from inside Earth's atmosphere... not necessarily size or importance. Which stars are the brightest?

Planets may be the brightest *things* in the sky, but they don't count as stars. The white and blue stars tend to be the hottest and shiniest... but some red stars are closer to earth, so they will appear brighter, even when they aren't in actuality. If you've ever looked up and wondered what that big mess was all about, here are some names to give to those bright dots... and a few directions for how to find them.
Photo:
  • Photo: Zwergelstern / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Alpha Centauri

    Magnitude: 1.33

    You see Alpha Centauri as one star, but it's actually a binary system comprised of A and B. There's even a third star associated with the system called Proxima which is the closest star to our sun. If you have a telescope, you can actually see both stars, and they say that ancient Greek and Arab armies used to use its duality as an eye test for their men. This group of three stars is in the constellation Centaurus, and can only really be seen by folks in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Photo: Zwergelstern / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Procyon

    Magnitude: 0.34

    Procyon is another point in the Winter Triangle (along with Betelguese and Sirius). It's in the constellation Canus Minor. You can see it just above Sirius, next to Orion. It's a white star, bright for its class, which suggests its going to start expanding "soon." Procyon is about 1.4 times the mass of our sun and 7.5 times more luminous.
  • Rigel

    Magnitude: 0.18

    You have probably seen Rigel lots of times. It's in one of the most obvious constellations in the skies: Orion. It's the bright one that makes his foot - your right, his left. We don't know much about Rigel since it's so far away (between 700-900 light years). It's a blue supergiant that shines at about 85,000 times that of our sun. It's the most luminous star in our part of the Milky Way, so bright it lights up nearby dust clouds like the Witch Head Nebula.
  • Photo: Akira Fujii / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Magnitude: 0.42

    Another star in Orion (he's got a lot of bright stars in and around him), Betelguese is a red supergiant. If you were to place it in the center of our solar system, it would extend past Jupiter! We don't know its mass for sure, because it's really far away... 640 light years. And, being a red supergiant, it's pretty much done for. Betelguese isn't expected to live past the next million years.