Astronomy Essentials

The star Sirius rings in the New Year

Sky chart linking of constellation Orion with arrow pointing from Belt to the star Sirius.
You can always recognize the star Sirius, because 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. Chart via Chelynne Campion/ EarthSky.

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 2024 by reaching its highest point in the sky around the stroke of midnight. That’s true for every New Year’s Eve.

The 2024 lunar calendars are here! Best New Year’s gifts in the universe! Check ’em out here.

Bright, colorful Orion with Sirius below over tropical trees.
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

So how can you find Sirius? Well, for starters, it’s the brightest star in Earth’s night sky. In fact, 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 the Hunter. Because Orion’s Belt always points to Sirius, you can identify Sirius easily.

Wide array of bright but slightly fuzzy stars, mostly blue-white but one reddish, over dark landscape.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Sergei Timofeevski shared this image from November 13, 2023. Sergei wrote: “The constellation Orion the Hunter and the star Sirius rising just above the eastern horizon in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California.” Thank you, Sergei! Note bright Sirius is on the bottom, and Orion’s Belt pointing to it.

Sirius is up late for the party

So Sirius is highest in the sky at midnight during every turn of the year. In short, astronomers call this a midnight culmination of Sirius. Thus, as the New Year rings in, Sirius is at its highest point in the sky.

To clarify, by midnight, 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 or ascending. When the sun or any star is in the western sky, it’s descending downward. Therefore, 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.

Space station components above, with night sky over orbital view of curve of Earth with Orion along it.
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, that is, midway between sunset and sunrise – every New Year’s Eve.

December 31, 2023
Astronomy Essentials

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