Top Ten Bright Stars in Our Night Sky

Stars are massive shining spheres of hot gas that exist in all galaxies across the universe. They were among the first objects to form in the infant universe, and they continue to be born in many galaxies, including our Milky Way. The star closest to us is the Sun. The next closest star (at a distance of 4.2 light-years) is Proxima Centauri. 

All stars are made primarily of hydrogen, smaller amounts of helium, and traces of other elements. The stars you see with your naked eye in the night sky all belong to the Milky Way galaxy, the huge system of stars that contains our solar system. It contains hundreds of billions of stars, star clusters, and clouds of gas and dust (called nebulae) where stars are born.

Here are the 10 brightest stars as seen from Earth. These make excellent stargazing targets from all but the most light-polluted cities. 

Edited and updated by Carolyn Collins Petersen.

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malcolm park / Getty Images

Sirius, also known as the Dog Star, is the brightest star in the night sky. Its name comes from the Greek word for scorching. It's actually a double star system, with a very bright primary and a dimmer secondary star.

  • Distance: 8.6 light-years
  • Spectral Type: A1Vm

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Canopus, the second-brightest star in the sky, is visible in this view photographed by astronaut Donald R. Pettit, Expedition 6 NASA ISS science officer, on board the International Space Station. Courtesy NASA / Johnson Space Center

Named either for an ancient city in northern Egypt or the helmsman for Menelaus, Canopus is the second brightest star in the night sky. It's mainly visible from the Southern Hemisphere, and also from the southern regions of the Northern Hemisphere.

  • Distance: 74 light-years
  • Spectral Type: F0II

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Rigil Kentaurus

The closest star to the Sun, Proxima Centauri is marked with a red circle, close to the bright stars Alpha Centauri A and B. Courtesy Skatebiker/Wikimedia Commons.

Rigel Kentaurus, also known as Alpha Centauri, is the third brightest star in the night sky. Its name literally means "foot of the centaur". It's one of the most famous known stars in the sky, and first-time travelers to the Southern Hemisphere always ask to view it.

  • Distance: 4.3 light-yeas
  • Spectral Type: G2V

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Arcturus (lower left) is seen in the constellation Bootes. © Roger Ressmeyer/Corbis/VCG

Arcturus is the brightest star in the northern-hemisphere constellation Boötes, which is one of the oldest constellations in the night sky. It is the 4th-brightest star in the entire sky.

  • Distance: 34 light-years
  • Spectral Type: 5IIIFe-0.5

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Two images of Vega and its dust disk, as seen by Spitzer Space Telescope. NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Vega is the fifth-brightest star in the night sky. Its name comes from the Arabic for "the swooping eagle". Vega is about 25 light-years from Earth. Astronomers have found a disk of material around it, which could possibly hold planets.

  • Distance: 25 light-years
  • Spectral Type: A0Va

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Capella, seen in the constellation Auriga. John Sanford/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

The sixth brightest star in the sky, Capella's name is from the Latin for "little she-goat". Capella is a yellow giant star, like our own Sun, but much larger. It's one of the five bright stars in an asterism called the "Winter Hexagon". 

  • Distance: 41 light-years
  • Spectral Type: G5IIIe+G0III

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Rigel, seen at the bottom right, in the constellation Orion the Hunter. Luke Dodd/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

The seventh brightest star in the sky, Rigel's name is from the Arabic for foot, indicating its place in the constellation Orion. It is a blue supergiant and part of a 4-star system.

  • Distance: 1400 light-years
  • Spectral Type: B8Ia

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Procyon is seen on the left side of Canis Major. Alan Dyer/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

Procyon is the eighth brightest star night sky. It is a yellow-white star in the constellation Canis Minor, and at 11.4 light-years, one of the closer stars to Earth.

  • Distance: 11.4 light-years
  • Spectral Type: F5IV-V

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Achernar seen above the Aurora Australis (just to the right of center), as seen from the International Space Station. NASA/Johnson Space Center

The ninth-brightest star night sky is Achernar. It is a bluish-white white supergiant star that is about 69 light years from Earth.

  • Distance: 69 light-years
  • Spectral Type: B3Vpe

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Red supergiant Betelgeuse at the upper left of Orion. Eckhard Slawik/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Betelgeuse is the tenth-brightest star in the sky and the upper left shoulder of Orion, the Hunter. It's a red supergiant about 13,000 times brighter than our Sun. If you placed Betelgeuse in the place of our Sun, it would extend past the orbit of Jupiter. This aging star will explode as a supernova sometime in the next few thousand years. 

  • Distance: ~1400 light-years
  • Spectral Type: M1-2Ia-Iab

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