1st Magnitude Stars Table

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1st Magnitude Stars, in order of magnitude (smallest = brightest)

StarnameMagnConstellationNorthern visibility
1. Sirius, (Tayamnisinte)-0.3Brightest star, Canis Minor (Lakota Animal-tail)Visible above 50 north lat. Found to be rise-marked on Medicine Wheel cairns, summer's end dawn.
2. Canopus0.1Argo (keel), southern hemisphere most brilliantFar south, never rises above 37N latitude
3. Alpha Centauri0.2CentaurNever rises north of 29N
4. Rigel, (Tayamnitchuhu0.3Orion (Lakota Animal, outer rib)On Zodiac -- good Northern visibility. Found to be rise-marked on Medicine Wheel cairns
5. Arcturus,(Itkob u)0.3Boötes (There are several Lakota names for this bright star, this one means "going toward") Northern sky, good Northern visibility
6. Capella0.3Auriga, (Lakota Racetrack, north marker)Northern sky, good Northern visibility
7. Vega0.3LyraNorthern sky, good Northern visibility
8. Procyon0.4Canis Minor, Lakota RacetrackNear Zodiac, good Northern visibility
9. Achernar0.4S. end of Eridanus, the RiverNever rises north of 36N
10. Betelgeuse (Tayamnituchuhu)0.7Orion, Lakota Animal inner ribZodiac, good Northern visibility
11. Antares0.7ScorpioZodiac (S. of ecliptic), good Northern visibility
12. Acrux1.0Southern CrossNever rises north of 30N
13. Pollux, Castor1.1Gemini, (Lakota Mato Tipila)Zodiac, good Northern visibility
14. Aldebaran1.2Taurus, (Lakota Animal neck)Zodiac, good Northern visibility. Found to be rise-marked on Medicine wheel ciarns (solstice dawn)
15. Beta Centauri1.2CentaurNever rises north of 32N
16. Altair1.3AquilaNorthern sky, good Northern visibility
17. Fomalhaut1.3Pisces AustralianusMost southerly star visible to 50N. Found to be rise-marked on Medicine Wheel cairns
18. Spica1.3Virgo lucidaZodiac, good Northern visibility
19. Deneb1.4Cygnus lucida, N. front leg of Lakota Agleshka salamander, boy's spirit constellationNorthern sky, good visibility
20. Regulus1.7Leo, Lion's heart, lucida, marker of Lakota Fireplace constellationZodiac, good Northern visibility, even though not very bright
21. Shaula1.7Scorpio (Southen sting)Zodiac, Northern visibility, but too dim for heliacal rising

Note: The last 2 of these 21 "first magnitude" stars are really closer to second magnitude; I include them (though they couldn't be seen in dawn-rising) because they lie in the Zodiac. Zodiacal stars lie in a band extending 8 to either side of the plane of the ecliptic which traces a kind of sine-wave against the stellar background. See very large starmap which shows the ecliptical sunpath through the constellations over a solar year. (Download to print for class use.)

The 16 band of the zodiac on either side of the sunpath the plane of the ecliptic traces through the sky marks a sort of stellar horizon of what stars can be viewed all places on earth north or south. Undoubtedly this is the reason that some constellations or other in the Zodiac -- including many rather arbitrarily composed of faint stars -- have been given importance by ancient astronomers from all cultures.

Modern astronomers who peer through mighty telescopes to the very edges of creation don't care that much about constellations. Amateurs, especially naked-eye stargazers who want to learn the heavens, should not only memorize the above brightest stars, but also adopt the older concept of the lucida (or luz) the brightest star in any particular constellation. Constellations' visible stars are numbered in order of brightness with letters of the Greek alphabet: alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, zeta, eta, theta, iota, kappa, lambda, mu, nu, omicron, pi, rho, sigma, tau, upsilon, phi, chi, psi, omega. The constellation's delineation or listing of stars usually starts with the lucida (alpha) and follows a connect-the-closest-visible-dot order. These stars may actually range down to 5th magnitude, barely visible to the naked eye. But these stars are in more exalted telescopic times still designated by terminology such as "Gamma Draconis" which is a 2.4 magnitude third-in-order star of the constellation Draco, the dragon, and actually has a name of its own (Eltanin, head of the dragon). For Lakota constellations, Gamma Draconis is the first of 13 circumpolar stars that begins the linkup for the circumpolar constellation Wakinyan (Thunderbird)

In only a few rare instances is the alpha star of a constellation not also its lucida. This has happened because of historical and cultural changes in denoting what stars are grouped together in most cases. But the Castor-Pollux "Twins" of Gemini (Lakota Mato Tipila) seem to indicate an actual change in brightness. Pollux is now Gemini's only first magnitude star, but Castor was equally bright up to about 400 years ago, that's why this constellation was called "Twins". Now the twins look somewhat different.

Usually that means a large dim object -- an eclipsing binary star -- has come between. With the much dimmer but faster-revolving binary Algol ("the Demon star") in the constellation of Perseus, you can see the the brightness change more than an order of magnitude over just 9 hours, every 3 days. It's conveniently located in a constellation with several nearby stars which match its brightness from brightest to dimmest. All the ancient astronomers were very bothered by Algol. Nobody liked its variability, everybody gave it evil names, called it "unfortunate". But if Algol is in a clear sky during most of the night that it goes through its dimming, then brightening again, observing it every 15 minutes or so is a very interesting star-party activity that can be done with naked eye (or binocs).

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CREDITS: The Lakota names and constellations come from the Lakota Star Knowledge book. The rest of the info I summarized from a great variety of astronomy sources. I drew all maps and pictures used or linked-to on this page. Tabulated magnitudes are from Yale astronomer-historian Richard Hinckley Allen's Star Names, Their Lore and Meaning, a 1963 Dover reprint of Hinckley's 1899 book. Today's highly instrumented magnitude measurements are a bit different, but these seem best for non-technical naked eye stargazers.


Page prepared by Paula Giese , text and graphics c. 1995, 1996

Last updated: Friday, May 17, 1996 - 3:44:03 PM