Sirius’ midnight culmination ushers in New Year

Tonight – New Year’s Eve – look up for Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky; then before sunrise on New Year’s Day, see the moon, Venus and Jupiter lighting up the predawn/dawn sky.

The first several mornings of the New Year 2019 feature the waning crescent moon and three morning planets. You may need binoculars to catch Mercury.

Every year, Sirius celebrates the birth of the New Year by climbing up to its highest point in the sky at the stroke of midnight. This star’s midnight culmination – when it’s at its “noontime position” at midnight – comes only once every year. And, by the way, by midnight, we mean the middle of the night, midway between sunset and sunrise. So tonight’s the night for Sirius’ midnight culmination.

Remember … the midnight culmination of Sirius by the clock might 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.

Click here for transit (midnight culmination) times for Sirius in your sky

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 hints of different colors. When you see Sirius high in the sky, as you will from Earth’s Southern Hemisphere, it’ll shine with a bright, steady white light.

Even from big cities, you can see Sirius, the sky’s brightest star. Gowrishankar Lakshminarayanan created this composite image on December 26, 2017 and wrote: “After a series of clouded night skies in New York City, we finally got a clear night though it was bitter cold and the temperature dropped to 25 F.! Here you can see the brightest star of the winter night sky – Sirius – and its path as it rises in the southeast sky to clip the spire of the Freedom Tower. This is a 78-image composite, spaced 30 seconds apart. I always thought that star trails within light-polluted city skies weren’t a good idea, since we hardly see any stars. However, thanks to bright stars like Sirius, we can still show a nice star trail in NYC!”

Bottom line: If you’re celebrating the New Year, and you happen to gaze up at the sky, look for Sirius. This star’s midnight culmination – when it’s highest in the sky at midnight – comes on New Year’s Eve.

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Deborah Byrd