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Is that a UFO or what?

Look! Up in the eastern sky! Is that bright light a UFO?

We have been enjoying some very clear skies of late (between tropical storm left-overs) and early risers may have spotted a very bright point of light in the pre-dawn eastern sky. What is it?

It's not a bird. It's not a plane. Nor is it Superman. That brilliant beacon is the star Sirius -- the brightest star in Earth's night sky.

Sirius is also known as the “Dog Star,” referring to its placement in the constellation Canis Major, or the "Big Dog."  Sirius is the dog in our phrase, “The dog days of summer” which hearkens back to its role in predicting the annual floods of Egypt's Nile River.

The bright blue-white star is a relatively close neighbor to our own Sun, being "only" about 8.5 light-years away (a light-year is the distance light travels through space in one year - about 6 trillion miles). Look at Sirius through a telescope or binoculars and its brilliant "twinkles," caused by our atmosphere, appear as flashes of several colors. To some it appears to be spinning.

Sirius is often the subject of well-meaning UFO reports. The star, when viewed through hand-held binoculars or a video camera's zoom lens, will appear to float or zip across the sky. It's the slight movements of the viewer's hand magnified by the lenses, not movements of the star, that make it appear to travel about like a flying saucer.

To learn more about stars, check these astronomy materials to be found at Westlake Porter Public Library.


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