Tonight, look for the gloriously bright star Arcturus. From mid-northern latitudes at this time of year, it rises into the east-northeastern sky about an hour after sunset. This yellow-orange beauty – like any brilliant star – sparkles wildly when it hovers near the horizon. Arcturus is the brightest star in the constellation Bootes, which represents a Herdsman, though – to our modern eyes – this star formation might look more like a kite or snow cone.
Arcturus will climb highest up for the night a few hours after midnight local time and will beam high in the western sky at dawn. You can verify that you’re looking at Arcturus by arcing to Arcturus via the Big Dipper’s handle, as depicted in the sky chart below. Click here for a recommended almanacs; it can help you learn when Arcturus will rise into your sky.
Arcturus is the 4th brightest star in the night sky, after Sirius, Canopus, and Alpha Centauri. Sirius shines brightly on winter and early spring evenings. The famous southern star Canopus does, too, as seen from latitudes like those in the southern U.S. Alpha Centauri is too far south to be seen from the continental U.S.
So Arcturus is worth getting to know. It is not only bright but also – due to its northerly location on the sky’s dome – visible for much of the year for Northern Hemisphere stargazers.
Arcturus’ appearance in the evening sky is a welcome sign in our northern climes, because it heralds the coming of spring.
Arcturus, like any star, rises 4 minutes earlier every day. In a week or so, the earlier-rising Arcturus will first beam at dusk, instead of nightfall. Arcturus’ dusk-till-dawn presence in the nighttime sky is a sure sign of spring returning to our Northern Hemisphere!
Bottom line: Watch for Arcturus, brightest star in the constellation Bootes the Herdsman. From mid-northern latitudes, it rises in the east around nightfall.
Bruce McClure has served as lead writer for EarthSky's popular Tonight pages since 2004. He's a sundial aficionado, whose love for the heavens has taken him to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and sailing in the North Atlantic, where he earned his celestial navigation certificate through the School of Ocean Sailing and Navigation. He also writes and hosts public astronomy programs and planetarium programs in and around his home in upstate New York.