The Bright Stars By Month

Recognition of the brightest stars is essential to familiarity with the sky


The first steps in becoming familiar with the night sky are (1) to find north from the stars, and (2) to recognize the bright stars visible at any time. This can be done without any optical aids whatsoever, at no expense and demanding little time or effort. Regular observation leads effortlessly to an appreciation of the principal celestial motions: the diurnal rotation of the heavens and the yearly revolution of the sun against the background of the stars. Of course, these represent the rotation of the earth and its revolution about the sun, but these motions can only be realized intellectually. One cannot use a telescope, or even binoculars, without first becoming familiar with the sky in this way. Even expensive computer-pointed telescopes will be found confusing and disappointing without this knowledge.

North is found from the circumpolar stars, principally Ursa Major, Cassiopeia and Ursa Minor. The Plough or Big Dipper of Ursa Major or the W of Cassiopeia are visible every clear night in the northern hemisphere, and halfway between them is the North Celestial Pole and the star Polaris. If you have some rough idea of what direction is north, the precise direction can be ascertained very quickly.

The principal clue in identifying the brightest stars is simply their brightness. The relations between bright stars is also important, and can be expressed as large triangles and other figures marked out by the stars. Some constellations, such as Orion, Cygnus, Leo and Scorpius, are easily recognized at first sight. Near the ecliptic, planets can be mistaken for stars and vice versa, but planets are usually considerably brighter than any star, especially Venus, which is visible by day as well. The monthly descriptions on this website will show you how to find the brightest stars, or any guide, such as a planisphere or a monthly sky map from a newspaper can be used. It is very profitable to view the stars regularly, perhaps for only five minutes, but picking out the bright stars every time, and observing how they rise or set earlier as the year progresses.

The stars in the following table are magnitude 1 or brighter, and can be seen easily without optical aid. They are arranged by month, as seen at 9 pm at latitude 40° N. Their positions are listed as: East--in the eastern sky, rising; Zenith--overhead, high in the sky; South--following a path from southeast to southwest; West--in the western sky, setting. Every two hours later than 9 pm corresponds to a succeeding month in the table. There are 15 such bright stars visible in northern skies. Canopus, Rigil Kentaurus, Achernar, Hadar, Acrux and Becrux are invisible at 40° N latitude.

Month East Zenith South West
January Procyon
Pollux
Regulus
Capella
Aldebaran
Betelgeuse
Rigel
Sirius --
February Regulus Capella
Aldebaran
Betelgeuse
Rigel
Pollux
Sirius --
March Arcturus
Spica
Procyon
Pollux
Regulus
Sirius Aldebaran
Betelgeuse
Rigel
Capella
April Arcturus
Spica
Vega
Regulus -- Aldebaran
Betelgeuse
Rigel
Capella
Procyon
May Vega
Deneb
Antares
Arcturus
Regulus
Spica Procyon
Pollux
Capella
June Altair
Deneb
Arcturus
Vega
Spica
Antares
Pollux
Regulus
Capella
July Altair Vega
Deneb
Arcturus
Antares Spica
August -- Vega
Deneb
Altair
Antares Arcturus
September Capella Vega
Deneb
Altair
Fomalhaut Arcturus
October Capella
Aldebaran
Deneb Fomalhaut Vega
Altair
November Capella
Pollux
Betelgeuse
Rigel
-- Fomalhaut Vega
Deneb
Altair
December Capella
Pollux
Betelgeuse
Rigel
Procyon
Sirius
Capella Fomalhaut Vega
Deneb


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Composed by J. B. Calvert
Created 23 February 2001
Last revised