Looking Up: Name your favorite star

Peter Becker
Our Sun, the nearest star, seen while rising over Florida.

Surge1223/Wikimedia Commons

What is your favorite star?

Your answer had better be the sun!

Most of us likely learned at some point that the sun is one of the stars. It is hard to imagine it in our everyday experience, since unlike every other star, this one has to be different:

1. It is only up in the daytime

2. It refuses to share the sky with any other visible star.

Unlike the other stars, the sun is both dangerous and life-giving. You can get sun burned and even contract skin cancer from prolonged exposure. It will blind you if you are so foolish to stare at it or even glimpse it through an unprotected telescope or binoculars. Its glare will vanquish your driving at certain angles. Its heat will overwhelm you if other weather conditions and elevation in the sky don’t mitigate the mercury. Solar storms can create havoc for telecommunications.

On the other hand, without the sun it is not that we would be dead, we wouldn’t be here in the first place. The sun is of just the exact distance, temperature, luminosity and stability to allow the Earth to be an abode of life.

This may seem like another primary school question, but where exactly ARE the other stars when the sun is around? Kids ask the greatest questions. Be prepared to give a reasonable answer. (P.S.: Don’t tell them to “look it up” unless they can read. YOU look it up!)

The stars, of course, are spread across the sky every day; we just can’t see them because of one, single star that has to make a show of things – the sun. Our star’s light filters through our atmosphere, its spectrum of colors being bent, or refracted, at varying angles. Only the bluish end of the sunlight’s spectrum is refracted downward to our eyes, giving us a blue sky.

By the way, when the sun is rising or setting, it appears orange or red because at low angles, it is the reddish portion of the solar spectrum which is refracted towards us. Tell that to your inquisitive 5-year-old, but be ready for a lot more excellent questions.

The rest of the stars you see at night appear as harmless points of light, giving incredible beauty as they sparkle together against the blackness of the firmament. You see at once that they vary greatly in brightness (magnitude). This is both due to their varying distance, and their intrinsic luminosity. Careful looking will reveal a variety of colors, especially bluish-white, red, orange, yellow and white. Astronomers claim there are no green stars, but frankly I don’t believe it. I’m still looking for them. Stars don’t find it easy being ... never mind.

Stars, which are all made up of gases, have an incredible range of physical characteristics, including size, temperature, chemical makeup and light output. Astronomers believe that stars follow what is tempting to refer to as a “life cycle” as they develop from a nebulous cloud and go through phases lasting eons, as nuclear fission converts hydrogen into helium.

Given letter designations for varying phases, the Sun is thought to be in about the middle of development, a Class G2 star. Stars are thought to come to an end in various ways, depending on numerous factors; some will be reduced to a super-dense and dim dwarf star, and others will explode. Some stars pulsate in brightness (variable stars). A great portion of stars travel space as duets or greater combinations, orbiting about a common center of gravity.

Our sun is the most studied of all stars and the most precious. We are glad for its daily rising, even if it’s the only star in town till it sets again.

How do we know the Sun still shines, when the other stars come out? Look to the moon and planets.

New moon is on June 16. The new moon is actually dark and not lit by the sun since it is nearly between the sun and us!

Be sure to see the bright planet Venus in the west after sunset and bright Jupiter to the upper left.

Keep looking up!

Peter W. Becker is managing editor of The News Eagle, Hawley, Pa., and an amateur astronomer since he was a teen. Notes are welcome at