Tonight – New Year’s Eve – look up for the brightest star in the sky, Sirius, in the constellation Canis Major. This star is up in the evening every year at this time, and – from all parts of Earth (except those far-southern realms in continuous daylight now) – Sirius is easy to identify. December 31 is a special night, the end of a calendar year. And it’s a special night for Sirius, too. This star’s official midnight culmination – when it’s highest in the sky at midnight – comes only once every year. And tonight’s the night.
Sirius will be out for most of the night. But before you look it, on the eve of the New Year, look for the waxing crescent moon beneath the planets Venus and Mars at nightfall.
This view of the moon and planets are special to this year, but Sirius’ presence as the New Year’s star is a yearly event. The New Year always begins with Sirius’ culmination at the midnight hour. It’s a fun sky event to watch for, if you happen to be outside at midnight on this night.
From the Northern Hemisphere … look toward the south, and you’ll easily notice Sirius shining there at around midnight.
From the Southern Hemisphere … look overhead or high in the north at around midnight.
This star is so bright that you might notice it twinkling fiercely, especially from northerly latitudes, where the star stays closer to the horizon.
You might even see it flashing different colors – just hints of colors from red to blue – like the celestial counterpart to an earthly diamond.
By the way, by midnight, we mean the middle of the night, midway between sunset and sunrise.
The midnight culmination of Sirius by the clock may be off by as much as one-half hour or so, depending on how far east or west you live from the meridian that governs your time zone.
Bottom line: If you’re celebrating the New Year tonight, and you happen to gaze up at the sky, look for Sirius – and take a moment to celebrate the sky’s brightest star.