Brightest Stars

Discovering the Universe


Fred Schaaf



This book is dedicated to my wife, Mamie, who has been the Sirius of my life.

This book is printed on acid-free paper.

Copyright © 2008 by Fred Schaaf. All rights reserved

Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey Published simultaneously in Canada

Illustration credits appear on page 272.

Design and composition by Navta Associates, Inc.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:

Schaaf, Fred.

The brightest stars : discovering the universe through the sky's most brilliant stars / Fred Schaaf.

Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-471-70410-2 (cloth : alk. paper)

1. Stars—Luminosity function—Amateurs' manuals. 2. Stars—Amateurs' manuals. 3. Astronomy—Amateurs' manuals. I. Title.

QB815.S33 2008 523.8--dc22


Printed in the United States of America


Acknowledgments v

Introduction 1 PART ONE

Stars in the Sky

1 How Bright Is Bright? 7

2 Meet the lst-Magnitude Stars 13

3 The Locations, Yearly Motions, and Names of the Stars 25

4 Seeing Stars Better (Skies, Eyes, and Telescopes) 39


Stars in the Universe

5 Parts, Structure, Distances, and Motions in the Universe 51

6 The Varieties of the Stars 63

7 The Lives and Deaths of the Stars 71


Profiles of the Brightest Stars

8 Sirius 83

9 Canopus 104

10 Alpha Centauri 115

11 Arcturus 126

12 Vega 136

13 Capella 146

14 Rigel 157

15 Procyon 163

16 Achernar 170

17 Betelgeuse

18 Beta Centauri

19 Alpha Crucis

20 Altair

21 Aldebaran

22 Spica

23 Antares

24 Pollux

25 Fomalhaut

26 Beta Crucis

27 Deneb

28 Regulus

174 182 185 188 196 208 215 224 230 238 241 247

Appendix A The Brightest Stars: Position, Spectral

Type, Apparent and Absolute Magnitude, and Distance 255 Appendix B The Brightest Stars: Spectral Type, Color

Index, Color, and Surface Temperature 256 Appendix C Midnight and 9:00 p.m. Culminations,

Season of Prime Evening Visibility 257

Appendix D Diameters and Masses of the Brightest Stars 258

Appendix E Motions of the Brightest Stars 259

Appendix F The 200 Brightest Stars 260

Glossary 266

Sources 269

Illustration Credits 272

Index 273


The first person I want to thank in connection with this book is Kate Bradford. Kate acted as acquisitions editor for two books of mine at the same time: The Brightest Stars and The 50 Best Sights in Astronomy. Now that both books have come to fruition (50 Best Sights was published by John Wiley & Sons in 2007), I feel extremely gratified to have been able to bring them into being. But the whole process could not have gotten off the ground without Kate's skilled help and support.

The next person I worked with on these two books was editor Teryn Johnson. I've not forgotten her congenial support. The person who has worked the most, and the most vitally, with me on these books, however, has been Christel Winkler. She has been patient and understanding under trying circumstances. I wish to give my deepest thanks to her for her tremendous and conscientious efforts to keep these books on schedule.

Now let me turn to the diagrams, maps, and artwork produced for The Brightest Stars. Many of them were created by two old friends of mine, Guy Ottewell and Doug Myers. Their work is always unique and brilliant. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to both of them.

Vital maps were also provided by Robert C. Victor and D. David Batch, who produce the Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar. Sky Calendar is a wonderful resource for all knowledge levels of skywatchers, and teachers, too. It is available from the Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824. You can also check out the associated Skywatcher's Diary at

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