Humans have looked to the sky for millennia. Whether it be to devise stories and mythology, note the change of seasons, or navigate around the world’s oceans, the celestial sphere has been one of the most important human aides in history. In this list, we bring out the 25 brightest objects in space that you should be able to see (depending on the light pollution in your area) by just looking up to the heavens.
Objects in our sky are ranked by how bright they appear to the average person on Earth – a measure known as apparent visual magnitude. Over the course of a year, the apparent magnitude of a celestial body changes, due to two primary factors: firstly, we see a different sky throughout the course of the year, so a celestial body may not always be visible in our night sky; secondly, since the universe is constantly in motion, some bodies move further away from us with time. Though some objects are easy to spot in the sky, such as our beloved Moon, some are harder to spot unless you know where (or in which constellation) to look. For stargazers and amateur astronomers alike, read this list and see if you can find the 25 Brightest Objects in Space That You Can See With Your Naked Eye.
The twelfth brightest star on our list (though 20th brightest celestial body), Altair is the second most luminous point of the Summer Triangle to us. It’s also the nearest star in the Triangle to Earth. (Deneb, the dimmest star to us, is 214 times further away and 7,000 times brighter than Altair when seen from the same distance away. The brightest star in the Triangle is #13.)
Beta Centauri (Agena, Hadar)
Composed of three stars, the trinary star system of Beta Centauri has historically been one of the most important and brightest objects in space. Navigators drew a line through #11 and Beta Centauri – the two ends of the “Pointers” to the Southern Cross – to determine which direction was south. The Cross is used the same in the Southern Hemisphere as Polaris (the North Star) is in the Northern – as a stable reference point.
Don’t say it three times! The star Betelgeuse is so large that if it were in the place of our sun, its diameter would extend out to somewhere between Mars and Jupiter. This massive supergiant has the most variable visual magnitude on our list and can be seen nearly everywhere from fall to spring. Look for a bright red star perpendicular to Orion’s belt.
Achernar is the bluest (and hottest) object in space that we can see with the naked eye. Interestingly, due to its orbital path, Achernar was not visible to most of our predecessors, including the Ancient Egyptians. Due to its extremely fast rotational speed, Archernar is the least spherical shape in our Milky Way Galaxy.
The second brightest star in the Winter Triangle (after #9 and before #18), Procyon appears reddish in the sky, especially in late winter. Culture after culture have used the star, from Babylonians to Hawaiians to the Kalapalo people of Brazil. Curiously, the Inuit referred to Procyon as Sikuliarsiujuittuq, after the story of a fat man who stole from other Inuit hunters because he was too heavy to hunt on the ice. He died when other hunters convinced him to go on newly formed sea-ice and he drowned. The red color of his blood was associated with Procyon.