Historical brightest stars

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The Solar System and all of the visible stars are in different orbits about the core of the Milky Way galaxy. Thus, their relative positions change over time, and for the nearer stars this movement can be measured. As a star moves toward or away from us, its apparent brightness changes. Sirius is currently the brightest star in Earth's night sky, but it has not always been so. Canopus has persistently been the brightest star over the ages; other stars appear brighter only during relatively temporary periods, during which they are passing our solar system at a much closer distance than Canopus. The table below lists the brightest star in Earth's night sky at each period within the last or next 5 million years.

Star Start
year
End
year
Maximum
year
Maximum
magnitude
Distance at
maximum (LY)
Current
distance
Current
magnitude
Epsilon Canis Majoris ... -4,460,000 -4,700,000 -3.99 34 430 1.50
Beta Canis Majoris -4,460,000 -3,700,000 -4,420,000 -3.65 37 500 1.99
Canopus (first time) -3,700,000 -1,370,000 -3,110,000 -1.86 177 310 -0.72
Zeta Sagittarii -1,370,000 -1,080,000 -1,200,000 -2.74 8 89.1 2.60
Zeta Leporis -1,080,000 -950,000 -1,050,000 -2.05 5.3 70 3.55
Canopus (second time) -950,000 -420,000 -950,000 -1.091 252 310 -0.72
Aldebaran -420,000 -210,000 -320,000 -1.54 21.5 65 0.85
Capella -210,000 -160,000 -240,000 -0.822 27.9 42.2 0.08
Canopus (third time) -160,000 -90,000 -160,000 -0.701 302 310 -0.72
Sirius (current) -90,000 +210,000 +60,000 -1.64 7.8 8.6 -1.46
Vega +210,000 +480,000 +290,000 -0.81 17.2 25.04 0.03
Canopus (fourth time) +480,000 +990,000 +480,000 -0.401 346 310 -0.72
Beta Aurigae +990,000 +1,150,000 +1,190,000 -0.402 28.5 82.1 1.9
Delta Scuti +1,150,000 +1,330,000 +1,250,000 -1.84 9.2 187 4.72
Gamma Draconis +1,330,000 +2,030,000 +1,550,000 -1.39 27.7 154 2.36
Upsilon Librae +2,030,000 +2,670,000 +2,290,000 -0.46 30 195 3.6
NR Canis Majoris +2,670,000 +3,050,000 +2,870,000 -0.88 14 280 5.6
Omicron Herculis +3,050,000 +3,870,000 +3,470,000 -0.63 44 346 3.83
Beta Cygni +3,870,000 ... +4,610,000 -0.52 80 390 3.18
  1. ^ a b c Peak magnitude is not the brightest for this star
  2. ^ a b This peak occurs when another star is brightest

References

  • Tomkin, Jocelyn (April 1998). "Once and Future Celestial Kings". Sky and Telescope 95 (4): 59–63. Bibcode:1998S&T....95d..59T.  - based on computations from HIPPARCOS data. (The calculations exclude stars whose distance or proper motion is uncertain.)







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