Amanda Cross in Euxton, Lancs, UK caught the images above of Sirius – the brightest star in Earth’s sky, sometimes called the Dog Star – on December 11, 2017. She wrote:
This is the star Sirius early in the morning. I used a high ISO and 1/320 shutter speed. The colour flashes are picked up by the camera as the atmosphere splits the light from the star. No color enhancements were made to this image. This is how the camera picked up the colors.
Thank you, Amanda!
It’s true. When you see this very bright star low in the sky, it appears to flash in many different colors. These colors aren’t intrinsic to the star, but instead result from refraction, which splits starlight into the colors of the rainbow. Atmospheric refraction causes all kinds of strange optical effects, like bent crescent moons, and flattened suns. And it causes the brightest stars – like Sirius – to shine in many sparkling colors!
When you see Sirius higher in the sky, where you’re looking at it through less atmosphere, this star appears to shine more steadily and with a whiter color.
Bottom line: Composite image of the star Sirius, shining in many colors.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.