Searching the Sky: Which is the brightest of them all?

David Baumgartner writes about his first computer and how he came up with his version of the top 20 brightest stars.

This column was provided by San Benito County resident and amateur astronomer David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.

When my interest in astronomy started to grow as a young whippersnapper, there weren’t many tools available to find information on astronomy. I could only imagine how most of the names of the constellations were pronounced, which still gives me fits today. I wondered how big, how far, how come, and what the heck was that all about?

But in the early 1950s my parents couldn’t afford a TV set, informative magazines, or a set of Encyclopedia Britannica’s from that nice salesman coming to our front door every six months or so handing out lollypops. So I had to depend on my computer and the internet to get my astronomy information.

Unfortunately, my computer was made out of cardboard that I scrounged up from the back of Baywoods. Best milkshakes in town. My computer had most of the letters on it, but lacked all the F1 and F2 keys, whatever they were all about, let alone having the Ctrl and Alt keys. I really could have used them. But as you can see, I was far ahead of the times. But not being that smart I just didn’t know how to put it all together. So I ended up climbing poles for PG&E and selling homes for a living. Not a bad living since I could afford all the things that my parents couldn’t. So now I’m building a star ship to travel the vast Universe. All made out of, you guessed it: cardboard. They have tons of it in the back of ACE Hardware. As you can see; I haven’t really learned a whole lot sense my early days going through recycling bends.

Being that I didn’t have all the information I needed, I would sometimes make up my own list of information all based on the best of my knowledge (Not much to go by there.) The one that I remember well was the list of the brighter stars in the heavens, or the “Brightiest of them all.” I wish I still had that list. It would be interesting to see just how close, or how far off, I was to the actual list of bright stars we have available today. I’m sure I was right on, all typed up on my cardboard computer.

When you look at a star with your naked eye, you are seeing that star maybe being brighter than another, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is bigger. Such as our number one on the list Sirius, the brightest star in our heavens at magnitude -1.46, much brighter than “Deneb”, which is number 19 on our list at magnitude +1.25.  It turns out that Deneb is actually much bigger than Sirius but much farther away at 2,615 light years away, compared to Sirius only 8.6 light years away. To give you an idea just how big Deneb is: Deneb is about 200 times bigger than our sun. Mind-blowing.

So here is the list of the top 20 brightest stars in our heavens. This is not my list from long ago mind you. Remember that the sun, moon, comets and some of the planets are brighter than Sirius. Take your star charts out some night and see if you can find any of the stars listed below. Make your own list; see how close you are to the list below.

#1           Sirius

#2           Canopus

#3           Rigil Kentaurus & Toliman

#4           Arcturus

#5           Vega

#6           Capella

#7           Rigel

#8           Procyon

#9           Achemar

#10         Betelgeuse

#11         Hadar

#12         Altair

#13         Acrux

#14         Aldebaran

#15         Antares

#16         Spica

#17         Pollux

#18         Fomalhaut

#19         Deneb

#20         Mimosa

So, the next time you are looking at Deneb, just remember that the light touching your eyes at that moment left Deneb over 2,615 years ago traveling at the speed of 186,000 mile per second. Do you suppose Deneb is still there? Hard to say. Harder to even comprehend.


Constellation of the Month

“The three unknowns”

Between Virgo and Hydra, the water snake, you will find three of the smallest constellations around. First off, we have Sextans invented in modern times I’m sure, for I don’t believe they had that kind of sophisticated instrument back in ancient times. This instrument was used to measure the positions of stars. Next, we have Crater, which means cup. It may be small but it does look like a cup. This constellation does go back to ancient times. The third small constellation is Corvus, the crow. It is easy to see: six bright stars close together in a symmetrical shape. This may be one of the smallest constellation, but it does have one of my favorite galaxies; M-104 the Sombrero galaxy. If you ever get around someone with a fairly good size telescope ask them to swing over to M-104, quite a sight to see.

Clear skies.



David Baumgartner

I am a local fella. Local schools from Fremont, Sacred Heart, Santa Anita, Hollister High, to San Benito Jr. College (Now Gavilan). Then joined the US Air Force where I specialized in Airborne Radar. Married my high school sweetheart JoAnne., shortly after three children arrived; Cindi, Michael, and Lisa. Somehow we ended up with nine Grandchildren.  Went on to San Luis Obispo, Questa, Colleges, and on to Univ. of New Mexico. Came back to Hollister. Opened up Three Pet Stores; Dave's Aquarium Pets & Supplies in SLO, Watsonville, and Hollister. The family spent two and a half years running a ranch up in Oregon. Made our way back to Hollister.  Got my Real Estate License in 1982, opened my own office in 93'. In the mean time raised Swans and revitalized my old hobby of Astronomy.  In 2001 I was named Chamber of Commence Man of the Year. I think I was the only one nominated. I don't care, I'm taking it. In December of 2018 I retired. Not sure if I was forced out or not. None the less, I am retired and I think it was time. Now the last thing I have to do is buy a coffin. I hear COSCO sells them now. But the only drawback is; you have to buy them in lots of six.  I guess I could buy them for the whole family. Not that funny, but thrifty.