The 10 Brightest Stars in the Sky

Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, accompanied by the prominent constellation Orion, the heavenly hunter, is sparkling over a snow-covered winter landscape.
Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, accompanied by the prominent constellation Orion, the heavenly hunter, is sparkling over a snow-covered winter landscape. H. Raab herbraab/ Flickr CC

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.

01
of 10
Sirius
The bright star Sirius. 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. Sirius is visible from late August (in the early mornings) until mid-to-late March) and lies 8.6 light-years away from us. Astronomers classify it as a type A1Vm star, based on their method of classifying stars by their temperatures and other characteristics. More »

02
of 10

Canopus

Canopus
Canopus, the second-brightest star in the sky, is visible in this view photographed by astronaut Donald R. Pettit. Courtesy NASA / Johnson Space Center

Canopus was well known to the ancients and is named either for an ancient city in northern Egypt or the helmsman for Menelaus, a mythological king of Sparta. It's the second brightest star in the night sky, and mainly visible from the Southern Hemisphere. Observers who live in the southern regions of the Northern Hemisphere can also see it low in their skies. Canopus lies 74 light-years away from us and is part of the constellation Carina. Astronomers classify it as a type F star, which means it's slightly hotter and more massive than the Sun. 

03
of 10

Rigil Kentaurus

1280px-Alpha-_Beta_and_Proxima_Centauri.jpg
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" and comes from the term "Rijl al-Qanṭūris" in Arabic. It's one of the most famous stars in the sky, and first-time travelers to the Southern Hemisphere are often eager to view it.

Rigel Kentaurus is actually part of a three-star system that contains the closest stars to the sun. The three stars lie 4.3 light-years away from us in the constellation Centaurus. Astronomers classify Rigel Kentaurus as a type G2V star, similar to the sun's classification. 

04
of 10

Arcturus

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

Arcturus is the brightest star in the northern-hemisphere constellation Boötes. ​The name means "Guardian of the Bear" and comes from ancient Greek legends. Stargazers often learn it as they star-hop from the stars of the Big Dipper to find other stars in the sky. It is the 4th-brightest star in the entire sky and lies just around 34 light-years away from the Sun. Astronomers classify it as a type K5 star which, among other things, means it is slightly cooler than the Sun.

05
of 10

Vega

Vega
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 means "the swooping eagle" in Arabic. Vega is about 25 light-years from Earth and is a Type A star, meaning it is hotter than the Sun. Astronomers have found a disk of material around it, which could possibly hold planets. Stargazers know Vega as part of the constellation Lyra, the Harp. It's also a point in an asterism (star pattern) called the Summer Triangle, which rides through the Northern Hemisphere skies from early summer to late autumn. 

06
of 10

Capella

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

The sixth brightest star in the sky is Capella. Its name means "little she-goat" in Latin, and was charted by the ancients. Capella is a yellow giant star, like our own Sun, but much larger. Astronomers classify it as a type G5 and know that it lies some 41 light-years away from the Sun. Capella is the brightest star in the constellation Auriga, and is one of the five bright stars in an asterism called the "Winter Hexagon"

07
of 10

Rigel

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

Rigel is an interesting star that has a slightly dimmer companion star. It lies about 860 light-years away ​but is so luminous that it's the seventh-brightest one in our sky. Its name comes from the Arabic for "foot" and it is indeed one of the feet of the constellation Orion, the Hunter. Astronomers classify Rigel as a Type B8 and have discovered it is part of a 4-star system. It, too, is part of the Winter Hexagon and is visible from October through March each year.

08
of 10

Procyon

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

Procyon is the eighth brightest star night sky and, at 11.4 light-years, is one of the closer stars to the Sun. It's classified as a Type F5 star, which means it's slightly cooler than the Sun. The name "Procyon" is based on the Greek word "prokyon" for "before the Dog" and indicates that Procyon rises before Sirius (the dog star). Procyon is a yellow-white star in the constellation Canis Minor and is also part of the Winter Hexagon. It's visible from most parts of both the northern and hemispheres.

09
of 10

Achernar

Achernar
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. This bluish-white supergiant star lies about 139 light-years from Earth and is classified a Type B star. Its name comes from the Arabic term "ākhir an-nahr" which means "End of the River." This is very appropriate since Achernar is part of the constellation Eridanus, the river.  It's part of the Southern Hemisphere skies, but can be seen from southerly parts of the Northern Hemisphere. 

10
of 10
Betelgeuse
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 makes the upper left shoulder of Orion, the Hunter. It's a red supergiant classified as a type M1, is about 13,000 times brighter than our Sun, and lies some 1,500 light-years away. 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. The name comes from the Arabic term Yad al-Jauza, which means "arm of the mighty one" and was translated as Betelgeuse by later astronomers. More »