Vega is the fifth brightest star in the sky, a brilliant blue-white star two and a half times larger than the sun. It takes turns with Polaris and Thuban as the pole star, and will be the nearest star to the celestial north pole again in 14 000 AD.
Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky – its modern name comes from the Ancient Greek Seirios (“glowing” or “scorcher”). It is actually another one of those binary stars, a white star and a white dwarf. Like Procyon, its nearness to Earth makes it much brighter in the night sky than many other stars. It is brighter than our sun, but dimmer than Rigel and Canopus.
(Note: this is a slightly rewritten excerpt from my second book Sun, Moon and Stars. I hope that isn’t out of line, but I still like the piece as it is.)
In the same year so bright a light illumined a wide spread of lands in the middle of the night that you would have thought that it was high noon. On a number of occasions fiery globes were also seen traversing the sky at night-time, so that they seemed to light up the whole earth. (The History of the Franks IX.4)
The Northern Lights are a more personal topic than many in this blog. I grew up in Labrador, which is in the sub-Arctic of Canada, and we did get some good displays. (For the best, you go further north, above the tree line.) Apart from the great colour show you can get, the thing I most remember about them is the hush – people would stop and look, and no one made any noise, just watched the pink and green bands undulate across the sky. It wasn’t hard to see why the Innu and Inuit were in awe of them. Continue reading