"Birthday Stars & Anniversary Stars"
chart used by Connie Barlow
We can begin to celebrate some birthdays by going out on a dark night and finding the star who is located the same number of light-years away as our age is. That means that the photons of light falling into our eyes right now, allowing us to see the star right now, began their journey from the surface of that star in the year that we were born! Wow! What a way to ritualize our aging, and connect intimately with the night sky. The first star to do this with is Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, just down and left of Orion. This star is 8 light years away, and 8 years old is a good time to be taught that looking into the sky is really looking into the past, and that we are the first people on Earth to ever know that. Wow!
Note: The terms "Birthday Stars, Wedding Stars, and Memorial Stars" were copyrighted by astronomer Vic Stryker (a.k.a The Olde Stargeezer) in 1979. Update: As of 2015, his website was no longer online.
Because stars are so distant, the photons reaching our eyes today began their journeys in the past. Thus we see stars as they were, not as they are. Our own eyes serve as time machines, taking us back into the past.
Star distances are measured in light-years: the distance over which light travels in one year (a little less than 700 trillion miles). The numbers in the chart above are light-year distances for stars close enough to our own solar system to serve as "birthday stars" or "anniversary stars" in the human lifespan. For example, Arcturus (at 36.7 light years away) is the birthday star for those 36 or 37 years old. It is easy to find because it is so bright, it is a distinctive reddish hue (being in its "Red Giant" phase of life), and one can easily find it by "arcing to Arcturus" along the curvature established by the handle of the BIG DIPPER.
Why are no "birthday stars" shown for the prominent stars in the constellation ORION? Because all of those stars are much farther away (in numbers of light-years) than the maximum span of a human life! (The reddish star Betelgeuse, in the shoulder of ORION, is 640 light years away.)
Not every birthday can be celebrated with a birthday star. The stars shown here are those that are (a) close enough to represent years of the human lifespan and (b) very easy to locate in the night sky. There is, however, a website that will show you birthday stars, even calibrated to your month and day of birth, but almost all of these are stars very difficult to find in the night sky, owing to lack of proximity to a prominent constellation or due to its own dimness. Click here for that website: http://birthdaystar.freeant.net
There is another website that lists and graphically portrays all of the visible stars within 50 light years of Earth. So you can go here to try to track down all the visible birthdays stars for those 50 and younger.
Winter Stars Near Orion
A wonderful way to introduce kids to the awesome understanding that when we look into the night sky we are looking into the past, is to make a rite of passage for 8 year olds. This would be an excellent program for a sleepover during the winter at a liberal church, and on a clear-sky night. SIRIUS is visible during the winter.
Not only is SIRIUS the brightest star in the Northern Hemisphere (and very easy to find because of its proximity to the ORION THE HUNTER constellation), but it is spelled the same way as Sirius Black, a major character in the Harry Potter books. Sirius Black's magical personna was a black dog, and Sirius the Star is part of the constellation CANIS MAJOR, which is the Constellation ORION's hunting dog companion. Indeed, Sirius is sometimes called "The Dog Star." Here is the gift for 8 year olds:"The photons of light from Sirius reaching your eyes today began their journey, exploding out of that star, in the very year you were born. This is how Sirius looked when you were born. So we are looking back 8 years into the past. This means that we cannot know what Sirius really looks like today. So it would be as if the only way we could see you today would be by looking at your baby picture. This means that Sirius is your "birthday star" this year, but it will not be your birthday star next year. Every 8 year old gets to have Sirius as their birthday star. When you are 9 and 10, there are no bright stars easy to see that are 9 or 10 light years away. You will have to wait until you turn 11. Then Procyon will become your birthday star." (Help them find Procyon, and also the stars in Orion. Explain why no star in Orion can ever be a birthday star.)
"And you are the first generation to ever be told that there is a birthday star for you. Scientists couldn't measure light-years distance when your great grandparents were your age. And even though your grandparents and parents could have been told this; they weren't, because this new scientific discovery had not yet been brought into everyday life. Nobody had thought before about how this discovery means that we can find birthday stars in the sky."
Explain how to find Aldebaran, as the bright Red Giant star in the left eye of TAURUS THE BULL constellation, and that when they turn 65, Aldebaran will be their birthday star, as it is for everybody alive today who is 65 years old.
To learn another awesome insight to teach kids under the night sky, keying on the reddish giant in the shoulder of Orion, click here for "Breathing with Betelgeuse".
Birthday Stars in the Summer Triangle
Teens and young adults will find two birthday stars during the summertime, in the SUMMER TRIANGLE: VEGA for a 25th birthday and ALTAIR for a 16th or 17th. (Vega is also famous as the star from which intelligent life was detected in the book and movie "Contact", by Carl Sagan.)
DENEB makes the third point in the Summer Triangle; it also marks the tail of the long-necked CYGNUS THE SWAN. Why doesn't the chart above show Deneb in big type? Because Deneb cannot be a birthday star: Deneb is 1600 light years away; we can see it only because it is a huge star and thus burns 60,000 times more brightly than does our Sun!
NOTE: Vega is also the ANNIVERSARY STAR for couples celebrating a 25th anniversary or anyone commemorating a significant event 25 years past.
Birthday Stars in Gemini (Late Winter & Spring)
The next increment in age, using only very easy-to-find stars, provides birthday stars for those age 33 and 51 or 52. POLLUX and CASTOR mark the heads of a prominent late-winter / early spring constellation: GEMINI.
For those age 54, a birthday star can be found in the constellation Cassiopeia, which is the big W in the late summer sky. The star's name is "Caph", and it is found as the right-most star in the W.
Year-Round Birthday Stars for Our Elder Years
in THE BIG DIPPER
For our elder years (only in the Northern Hemisphere), THE BIG DIPPER is our constellation. Luckily, too, it is possible to find these elder birthday stars during any season of the year, because the Big Dipper resides very close to the pole star, Polaris (431 light years away).
77 - Merak
78 - Mizar
81 - Alioth (brightest star in this constellation) (and dimmer Megrez)
84 - Phecda
100 - Alkaid (also the star to celebrate 100th commemorations)
To celebrate an 88th birthday, one has to travel to the Southern Hemisphere. At 88 light years away, Gacrux is part of the celebrated constellation, THE SOUTHERN CROSS.
Because not every birthday year is marked in the sky by a prominent and easy-to-find star, make sure that you and your loved ones don't miss the years that do match up with a star!
Note: Go ahead and use this page and illustrations however you wish, or make your own. There is no copyright.
BIRTHDAY STAR SONG
There is SIR-i-US/ the BRIGHT DOG STAR.
On our 8TH birthDAY, the DOG star SHINES our WAY.
There's a STAR for OUR / late CHI-ld-HOOD.
When we turn 12 years OLD, Pro-CY-on SHINES so BOLD.
There's a STAR for WHEN / we turn SIX-TEEN.
That special STAR up THERE / goes BY the NAME Al-TAIR.
There's a STAR for THOSE / age TWEN-ty FIVE.
We'll look to VE-ga THEN / when we are WOMen and MEN.
There's a STAR for THOSE / age THIR-ty THREE
POLL-ux shines within / GEM-in-I the COS-mic TWIN.
There's a STAR for THOSE / age THIR-ty-SIX.
Known as ARC-tur-US / this STAR looks DOWN on US.
There's a STAR for THOSE / age FIF-ty TWO.
By then we'll LEARN to FIND / this CAS-tor STAR su -BLIME.
There's a STAR for THOSE / age SIX-ty FIVE.
Al-DEB-ar-on SHINES, a BRIGHT red STAR di-VINE.
There's a STAR for THOSE / age SEV-en-ty SEV-en.
In the DIP-per's CUP / Mer-AK the STAR shows UP.
There's a STAR for THOSE / age SEV-enty EIGHT.
The DIP-per's HAN-dle STAR / goes by the NAME Mi-ZAR.
There's TWO STARS for THOSE / age EIGHT-y ONE.
ME-GREZ and AL-i-OTH / shine EACH and EV-ery MONTH.
There's a STAR for THOSE / age EIGHT-y FOUR.
In its EL-der HOOD / this PHEC-da STAR looks GOOD.
There's a FI-nal STAR / for US to KNOW.
AL-KAID SHINES so BOLD / for THOSE a CEN-tury OLD.
Listen to an AUDIO sample.
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