Historical brightest stars
This article's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. In particular: The results were produced before the new reduction of Hipparcos data (van Leeuwen, 2007) and the Gaia mission. (December 2017)
The Solar System and all of the visible stars are in different orbits about the core of the Milky Way galaxy. Thus, their relative positions change over time, and for the nearer stars this movement can be measured. As a star moves toward or away from us, its apparent brightness changes. Sirius is currently the brightest star in Earth's night sky, but it has not always been so. Canopus has persistently been the brightest star over the ages; other stars appear brighter only during relatively temporary periods, during which they are passing the Solar System at a much closer distance than Canopus.
Working out exactly which stars were or will be the brightest at any given point in the past or future is difficult since it requires precise 3D proper motions of large numbers of stars and precise distances. This information only started to become available with the 1997 Hipparcos satellite data release. Jocelyn Tomkin used this data to compile a list of brightest star in Earth's night sky at each period within the last or next 5 million years. Reanalysis of the Hipparcos data and new data from the Gaia spacecraft have rendered the list somewhat outdated. For example, it doesn't include Gliese 710 which in about 1.35 million years time is expected to be close enough to have a magnitude of −2.7.
Jocelyn Tomkin's 1998 list of the brightest star in Earth's night sky at each period within the last or next 5 million years
|Epsilon Canis Majoris ||...||−4,460,000||−4,700,000||−3.99||34||430||1.50|
|Beta Canis Majoris ||−4,460,000||−3,700,000||−4,420,000||−3.65||37||500||1.99|
|Canopus (first time)||−3,700,000||−1,370,000||−3,110,000||−1.86||177||310||−0.72|
|Canopus (second time)||−950,000||−420,000||-950,000||-1.09||252||310||−0.72|
|Canopus (third time)||−160,000||−90,000||-160,000||-0.70||302||310||−0.72|
|Canopus (fourth time)||+480,000||+990,000||+480,000||-0.40||346||310||−0.72|
|NR Canis Majoris||+2,670,000||+3,050,000||+2,870,000||−0.88||14||280||5.6|
- Tomkin, Jocelyn (April 1998). "Once and Future Celestial Kings". Sky and Telescope. 95 (4): 59–63. Bibcode:1998S&T....95d..59T. – based on computations from HIPPARCOS data. (The calculations exclude stars whose distance or proper motion is uncertain.) PDF[permanent dead link]
- Berski, Filip; Dybczyński, Piotr A. (2016-11-01). "Gliese 710 will pass the Sun even closer". Astronomy & Astrophysics. 595: L10. Bibcode:2016A&A...595L..10B. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201629835. ISSN 0004-6361.
- This star is now a luminous giant. It may have been on the main sequence, approx. 1 mag fainter, during the time span given.
- This star is now a supergiant. It may have been on the main sequence, approx. 1 mag fainter, during the time span given.
- Peak magnitude is not the brightest for this star
- This peak occurs when another star is brightest