About twenty of the brightest stars in the sky are known as first magnitude stars, not that they are all nearer, but are brighter, and sometimes larger than the average star size.

Some sixty of the next brightest are of the second magnitude, and so on with increasing stars as we go up in magnitude (ie go down in star brightness). There are about eight star magnitudes embraced within the range of the naked eye, two grades having been added above the old first magnitude.

The Planets as "Bright Stars"

Many beginner astronomers confuse planets (or the wanderers) as bright stars. This is a common mistake, and it is important to note that the "brighter stars" can be Venus (the "evening star"), Saturn, Jupiter or Mars.

Brightness Rating of Stars - Magnitude

Brightness Rating of Stars Just like we rate light bulbs, stars are rated according to their brightness. The highest, or brightest, is the negative first magnitude (or -1). Then comes the zero magnitude (0), and below that follow, in order, the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth magnitudes. Between one magnitude and its next neighbor the difference in brightness is approximately two-and-a-half times (accurately, 2.512). For example, a star of the first magnitude is two-and-a-half times as bright as one of the second magnitude, six-and-a quarter times as bright as one of the third magnitude (2.5 x 2.5 = 6.25), and so on, a sixth-magnitude star having only one-one-hundredth as much light as a first-magnitude one. Stars of the first magnitude are Aldebaran and Altair. The zero magnitude is two-and-a-half times as bright as the first magnitude. Arcturus is a representative of this rank. The negative first magnitude, two-and-a-half times brighter yet, has but one member, the majestic Sirius, and even Sirius exceeds the ideal standard of his own rank, the actual magnitude being 1.4. The actual brilliance of Sirius exceeds that of a standard first-magnitude star about nine times. Next to Sirius in brightness is Canopus, in the Southern Hemisphere, invisible from most of the United States.

How Many Stars can I See?

Stars dimmer than the sixth magnitude are not easily visible to the naked eye, but a binocular can reveal up to the 10th magnitude (or more depending on size), and a telescope reveals them up to the thirteenth magnitude or higher (or more depending on size). Also of importance is the seeing conditions, or light pollution of the viewing / observing site. The limiting magnitude is the faintest star that can be seen at that time for that location and has an important effect on ability to see even bright stars, and definitely deep sky objects as well. If you have observed during a full moon, you will notice that the stars are washed out from the brightness of the moon and are difficult to see during these times. The size, in fact the aperture of the telescope (or binoculars) stated often in inches will determine the amount of stars seen and their magnitude (limiting magnitude).

Bright Stars and their Names

Bright Star Names The ancient astronomers gave wonderful names to many of the brighter stars, however modem astronomers have adopted the Greek alphabet with the genitive of the Latin name of a constellation. Therefore Vega, the brightest star in the constellation Lyra, is cailed Alpha Lyrae, and Riegel, the second brightest in Orion, is called Beta Orionis.

The stars are also named in order of brightness in constellations by the Greek alphabet. Thus the brightest star is alpha, the second brightest beta and so on.

Bright Stars of the Northern Hemisphere

Here is a list of the stars of the first magnitude which can be seen by the inhabitants of Northern countries such as Europe, Russia, Canada, and the United States.
It is a good idea to learn the positions of these stars in your sky, as they can be used for navigation in the night sky and finding constellations and the objects in them.

Sirius, in Canis Major. February 10
Canopus, in Argo Navis, February 10
Arcturus, in Bootes, May 10
Rigel, in Orion, January 20
Capella, in Auriga, February 1
Vega, in Lyra, August 20
Procyon, in Canis Minor, March 1
Betelgeuse, in Orion, January 20
Achernar, in Eridanus, December 1
Aldebaran, in Taurus, January 1
Antares, in Scorpio, July 20
Altair, in Aquila, September 20
Spica, in Virgo, April 20
Fomalhaut, in Southern Fish (Piscis Austrinus), October 20
Pollux, in Gemini, February 20
Regulus, in Leo, March 20.