Sirius is a star system and the brightest star in the Earths night sky. With a visual apparent magnitude of −1.46, it is almost twice as bright as Canopus, the system has the Bayer designation Alpha Canis Majoris. The distance separating Sirius A from its companion varies between 8.2 and 31.5 AU, Sirius appears bright because of its intrinsic luminosity and its proximity to Earth. At a distance of 2.6 parsecs, as determined by the Hipparcos astrometry satellite, Sirius is gradually moving closer to the Solar System, so it will slightly increase in brightness over the next 60,000 years. After that time its distance will begin to increase and it will become fainter, Sirius A is about twice as massive as the Sun and has an absolute visual magnitude of 1.42. It is 25 times more luminous than the Sun but has a lower luminosity than other bright stars such as Canopus or Rigel. The system is between 200 and 300 million years old and it was originally composed of two bright bluish stars. Sirius is also known colloquially as the Dog Star, reflecting its prominence in its constellation, the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius is recorded in the earliest astronomical records. Every year, it disappears for seventy days before returning to the sky just before sunrise. This occurs at Cairo on 19 July, placing it just prior to the summer solstice, the ancient Greeks observed that the appearance of Sirius heralded the hot and dry summer and feared that it caused plants to wilt, men to weaken, and women to become aroused. Due to its brightness, Sirius would have been noted to twinkle more in the weather conditions of early summer. To Greek observers, this signified certain emanations which caused its malignant influence, anyone suffering its effects was said to be star-struck. It was described as burning or flaming in literature, the season following the stars reappearance came to be known as the dog days. The inhabitants of the island of Ceos in the Aegean Sea would offer sacrifices to Sirius and Zeus to bring cooling breezes, if it rose clear, it would portend good fortune, if it was misty or faint then it foretold pestilence. Coins retrieved from the island from the 3rd century BC feature dogs or stars with emanating rays, ptolemy of Alexandria mapped the stars in Books VII and VIII of his Almagest, in which he used Sirius as the location for the globes central meridian. He depicted it as one of six red-coloured stars, the other five are class M and K stars, such as Arcturus and Betelgeuse. Bright stars were important to the ancient Polynesians for navigation between the islands and atolls of the Pacific Ocean. Low on the horizon, they acted as stellar compasses and they also served as latitude markers, the declination of Sirius matches the latitude of the archipelago of Fiji at 17°S and thus passes directly over the islands each night
A simulated image of Sirius A and B using Celestia
A Chandra X-ray Observatory image of the Sirius star system, where the spike-like pattern is due to the support structure for the transmission grating. The bright source is Sirius B. Credit: NASA/SAO/CXC.
An artist's impression of Sirius A and Sirius B. Sirius A is the larger of the two stars.