Astronomy Essentials

The star Sirius rings in the New Year

Sky chart linking the constellation Orion to the star Sirius.
You can always recognize the star Sirius. It’s the brightest star in the sky. And the 3 prominent Belt stars in the easy-to-see constellation Orion the Hunter point to it.

Want to entertain your friends on New Year’s Eve? Give them a quick tour of the heavens, and show them Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. It has the nickname the Dog Star, because it’s part of the constellation Canis Major the Greater Dog. Sirius might also be called the New Year’s star. It’ll ring in 2022 by reaching its highest point in the sky around the stroke of midnight. That’s true for every New Year’s Eve.

Orion over Gir National Park in India.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Nikunj Rawal in Gir National Park, India, captured this photo of Orion on November 21, 2020. Note the brightest star at the bottom, Sirius. Thank you, Nikunj!

How to find the star Sirius

How can you find Sirius? Well, for starters, it’s the brightest star in Earth’s night sky. Its name means sparkling or scorching.

The only points of light that can shine brighter than Sirius are some of the planets. If you’re scanning the dark sky and aren’t sure which point of light is Sirius, here’s a sure-fire way to know. Look for the prominent Belt stars of the constellation Orion. Orion’s Belt always points to Sirius.

Night sky with prominent Orion and bright Sirius to lower left.
This photo comes from EarthSky Facebook friend Susan Jensen in Odessa, Washington. See how it matches the chart above, with the 3 stars of Orion’s Belt pointing to Sirius?

Sirius is up late for the party

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, that is, 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.

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.

House with porch lights and trees with one bright star in night sky above.
Brightest star Sirius at dusk on December 27, 2018, via Peter Lowenstein in Mutare, Zimbabwe. Around New Year’s, the star can be found in the eastern half of the sky in the evening, highest around midnight, and in the western half of the sky between midnight and dawn.
Space station components above with night sky over orbital view of curve of Earth.
View larger. | Sirius from space. It’s the brightest star in this image, the bluish one, to the right in the photo. The 3 Belt stars of Orion – buried in the haze along Earth’s horizon – are still pointing to it. Image via NASA.

Bottom line: Look for the star Sirius at midnight culmination – highest in the sky around midnight, or midway between sunset and sunrise – every New Year’s Eve.

Posted 
December 31, 2021
 in 
Astronomy Essentials

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Bruce McClure

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