DR. SKY BLOG

Arizona astronomers can view Sirius, brightest star, in March, April

Mar 27, 2019, 2:00 PM
(Wikimedia photo)...
(Wikimedia photo)
(Wikimedia photo)

Our Arizona night sky offers up some really amazing sights and some that are better viewed from remote locations!

What about something that is equally fascinating and visible from the brightly lit skies of downtown Phoenix or other cities in Arizona?

The brightest star in the night sky, Sirius, is easily visible in our late March and early April skies.

The star Sirius is a most interesting object and one that is relatively close to our planet. Sirius is located some 8.611 light years from us and shines with amazing brilliance in the night sky.

Sirius is a powerhouse of a star, being a very hot blue star with a mass of at least two times that of the Sun and is listed as a binary star system, with a famous white dwarf star known as Sirius B.

The dwarf star orbits the primary star in a period of some 50 years.

In the world of astronomy, we measure the brilliance of stars in a term known as magnitude.

On this scale of brilliance, the higher the negative magnitude, the brighter the object.

The higher the positive magnitude, the dimmer the object. The Sun is listed at negative-26 on the magnitude scale and the faintest star you can see in the night sky with the naked eye, is near plus-6.

Sirius is at visual magnitude negative-1.46 — very bright by this system of magnitude.

While two times the mass of our Sun, Sirius shines with 25 times the luminosity of our star and will actually get a little brighter over the next 60,000 years before fading as the star moves away from our place in the cosmos.

The relative age of the Sirius star system is around 300 million years old.

The brighter of the two stars was Sirius B, the now dwarf star that was one larger and brighter than the current Sirius A.

Over time, Sirius B became a red giant and collapsed and became a dwarf star.

Sirius B was discovered back on Jan. 31, 1862, by the American optical expert Alvan Clark using the newly manufactured 18.5-inch lens at the Dearborn Observatory.

The tiny dwarf star, Sirius B, is about the size of the earth and has a mass of 102 percent of the Sun.

It is possible to view the companion star, Sirius B, with a decent sized telescope, as a tiny point of light.

Here is a finder chart for the more experienced observers out there.

Sirius is known by many as the “Dog Star,” being the principal star in the constellation of Canis Major, the large dog.

The ancient Egyptians had a special relationship with Sirius and thought of it as a type of God, helping to announce the arrival of the planting season.

Here is an image of the Sirius star system as obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope.

To view this amazing beacon of light, just go outside any clear evening as the month of March ends and look due south at sunset.

Sirius is that bright star which seems to appear out of the twilight sky and remains bright for hours after that!

Just in case you want to be really specific with your observations, remember that the light which you see tonight from Sirius left the star around Aug. 16, 2010, and just got here as you view it!

Simply amazing!

To print your own monthly star chart, click here.

To view satellites/dates/times of passage, click here.

Listen to the Dr. Sky Show on KTAR News 92.3 FM every Saturday morning at 3 a.m.

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Arizona astronomers can view Sirius, brightest star, in March, April