Sirius in the constellation Canis Major – the legendary Dog Star – should be called the New Year’s star. This star – the brightest one in the nighttime sky – celebrates the birth of 2015 and every new year by reaching its highest point in the sky around the stroke of midnight. That’s the case this year, and every year.
How can you find Sirius? It’s easy because this star is the brightest one we see from Earth. Its name means sparkling or scorching. In late 2014 and early 2015, only the planet Jupiter outshines Sirius in the evening sky. (Venus, the brightest planet, sets in the west before nightfall.) At mid-northern latitudes, Sirius rises in the southeast at around 7 to 8 p.m. tonight. Jupiter is up up about an hour later, farther to the north than Sirius on the sky’s dome, and brighter than this star.
If you’re not sure, look for the prominent Belt stars of the constellation Orion, as shown on today’s chart. Orion’s Belt always points to Sirius.
So Sirius is highest in the sky at midnight every New Year’s. Astronomers call this a midnight culmination of Sirius. As the New Year rings in, Sirius is at its highest.
By midnight, by the way, we mean the middle of the night – midway between sunset and sunrise. Like the sun, the stars rise in the east and travel westward across the sky. When the sun or any star is in the eastern half of the sky, it’s climbing upward. When the sun or any star is in the western sky, it’s descending downward. Midway between rising and setting, the sun or any star reaches its highest point in the sky.
So Sirius will reach its highest point in the sky at midnight New Year’s Day, at the birth of the New Year. Because the stars rise and set two hours earlier with each passing month, Sirius will be highest up for the night around 10 p.m. local time on February 1.
Look for Sirius – at midnight culmination – highest in the sky around midnight every New Year’s Eve!