Historical brightest stars

The Solar System and all of the visible stars are in different orbits about the core of the Milky Way galaxy. Thus, their relative positions change over time, and for the nearer stars this movement can be measured. As a star moves toward or away from us, its apparent brightness changes. Sirius is currently the brightest star in Earth's night sky, but it has not always been so. Canopus has persistently been the brightest star over the ages; other stars appear brighter only during relatively temporary periods, during which they are passing the Solar System at a much closer distance than Canopus.

Working out exactly which stars were or will be the brightest at any given point in the past or future is difficult since it requires precise 3D proper motions of large numbers of stars and precise distances.[1] This information only started to become available with the 1997 Hipparcos satellite data release.[1] Jocelyn Tomkin used this data to compile a list of brightest star in Earth's night sky at each period within the last or next 5 million years.[1] Reanalysis of the Hipparcos data and new data from the Gaia spacecraft have rendered the list somewhat outdated. For example, it doesn't include Gliese 710 which in about 1.35 million years time is expected to be close enough to have a magnitude of −2.7.[2]

Jocelyn Tomkin's 1998 list of the brightest star in Earth's night sky at each period within the last or next 5 million years

Star Start
Distance at
maximum (LY)
Epsilon Canis Majoris [3] ... −4,460,000 −4,700,000 −3.99 34 430 1.50
Beta Canis Majoris [4] −4,460,000 −3,700,000 −4,420,000 −3.65 37 500 1.99
Canopus (first time) −3,700,000 −1,370,000 −3,110,000 −1.86 177 310 −0.72
Zeta Sagittarii −1,370,000 −1,080,000 −1,200,000 −2.74 8 89.1 2.60
Zeta Leporis −1,080,000 −950,000 −1,050,000 −2.05 5.3 70 3.55
Canopus (second time) −950,000 −420,000 -950,000 -1.09[5] 252 310 −0.72
Aldebaran −420,000 −210,000 −320,000 −1.54 21.5 65 0.85
Capella −210,000 −160,000 -240,000 -0.82[6] 27.9 42.2 0.08
Canopus (third time) −160,000 −90,000 -160,000 -0.70[5] 302 310 −0.72
Sirius (current) −90,000 +210,000 +60,000 −1.64 7.8 8.6 −1.46
Vega +210,000 +480,000 +290,000 −0.81 17.2 25.04 0.03
Canopus (fourth time) +480,000 +990,000 +480,000 -0.40[5] 346 310 −0.72
Beta Aurigae +990,000 +1,150,000 +1,190,000 -0.40[6] 28.5 82.1 1.9
Delta Scuti +1,150,000 +1,330,000 +1,250,000 −1.84 9.2 187 4.72
Gamma Draconis +1,330,000 +2,030,000 +1,550,000 −1.39 27.7 154 2.36
Upsilon Librae +2,030,000 +2,670,000 +2,290,000 −0.46 30 195 3.6
NR Canis Majoris +2,670,000 +3,050,000 +2,870,000 −0.88 14 280 5.6
Omicron Herculis +3,050,000 +3,870,000 +3,470,000 −0.63 44 346 3.83
Albireo +3,870,000 ... +4,610,000 −0.52 80 390 3.18


  1. ^ a b c Tomkin, Jocelyn (April 1998). "Once and Future Celestial Kings". Sky and Telescope. 95 (4): 59–63. Bibcode:1998S&T....95d..59T. – based on computations from HIPPARCOS data. (The calculations exclude stars whose distance or proper motion is uncertain.) PDF
  2. ^ Berski, Filip; Dybczyński, Piotr A. (2016-11-01). "Gliese 710 will pass the Sun even closer". Astronomy & Astrophysics. 595: L10. Bibcode:2016A&A...595L..10B. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201629835. ISSN 0004-6361.
  3. ^ This star is now a luminous giant. It may have been on the main sequence, approx. 1 mag fainter, during the time span given.
  4. ^ This star is now a supergiant. It may have been on the main sequence, approx. 1 mag fainter, during the time span given.
  5. ^ a b c Peak magnitude is not the brightest for this star
  6. ^ a b This peak occurs when another star is brightest
List of brightest natural objects in the sky

This is a list of the brightest natural objects in the sky. This list orders maximum apparent magnitudes from Earth, not anywhere else, and is for naked eye viewing. Individual stars without IAU approved names and multiple star systems are listed with their Bayer designations. This list does not include comets, man-made objects, or phenomenon such as supernovae or clouds.

List of brightest stars

This is a list of stars down to magnitude +2.50, as determined by their maximum, total, or combined visual magnitudes as viewed from Earth. Although several of the brightest stars are known binary or multiple star systems and are relatively close to Earth, they appear to the naked eye as single stars. The list below combines/adds the magnitudes of bright individual components. Most of the proper names in this list are those approved by the Working Group on Star Names. Popular star names here that have not been approved by the IAU appear with a short note.

List of extremes in the sky

This article describes some extremes in the sky as a textual addition to the list of star extremes page.

Outline of astronomy

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to astronomy:

Astronomy – studies the universe beyond Earth, including its formation and development, and the evolution, physics, chemistry, meteorology, and motion of celestial objects (such as galaxies, planets, etc.) and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth (such as the cosmic background radiation).

Star systems
Related articles

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