Star Magnitude Graphing

Grade Levels: 4 - 6


  1. The students will be able to use a spreadsheet to record data on stars.
  2. The students will be able to graphically represent stars by magnitude and location.


  1. Using spreadsheet software (Microsoft Excel or ClarisWorks), instruct the students to transfer the information below into a chart. (Hint: You can click and drag to highlight the data in the chart below. Then copy and paste it into the spreadsheet.)
  2. The students can then create graphs to display the data.

    Magnitude is the degree of brightness of a star. In 1856, British astronomer Norman Pogson proposed a quantitative scale of stellar magnitudes, which was adopted by the astronomical community. He noted that we receive 100 times more light from a first magnitude star as from a sixth; thus with a difference of five magnitudes, there is a 100:1 ratio of incoming light energy, which is called luminous flux.

    Because of the nature of human perception, equal intervals of brightness are actually equal ratios of luminous flux. Pogson's proposal was that one increment in magnitude be the fifth root of 100. This means that each increment in magnitude corresponds to an increase in the amount of energy by 2.512, approximately. A fifth magnitude star is 2.512 times as bright as a sixth, and a fourth magnitude star is 6.310 times as bright as a sixth, and so on. The naked eye, upon optimum conditions, can see down to around the sixth magnitude, that is +6. Under Pogson's system, a few of the brighter stars now have negative magnitudes. For example, Sirius is . 1.5. The lower the magnitude number, the brighter the object. The full moon has a magnitude of about . 12.5, and the sun is a bright . 26.51!

    The Brightest Stars

    Sirius Canis Major -1.6 8
    Canopus Carina -0.9 650
    Alpha Centauri Centaurus +0.1 4
    Vega Lyra 0.1 23
    Capella Auriga 0.2 42
    Arcturus Bootes 0.2 32
    Rigel Orion 0.3 545
    Procyon Canis Minor 0.5 10
    Achernar Eridanus 0.6 70
    Beta Centauri Centaurus 0.9 130
    Altair Aquila 0.9 18
    Betelgeuse Orion 0.9 600
    Aldebaran Taurus 1.1 54
    Spica Virgo 1.2 190
    Pollux Gemini 1.2 31
    Antares Scorpius 1.2 170
    Fomalhaut Piscis Austrinus 1.3 27
    Deneb Cygnus 1.3 465
    Regulus Leo 1.3 70
    Beta Crucis Crux 1.5 465
    Eta Carinae Carina 1-7 .
    Alpha-one Crucis Crux 1.6 150
    Castor Gemini 1.6 44
    Gamma Crucis Crux 1.6 .
    Epsilon Canis Majoris Canis Major 1.6 325
    Epsilon Ursae Majoris Ursa Major 1.7 50
    Bellatrix Orion 1.7 215
    Lambda Scorpii Scorpius 1.7 205
    Epsilon Carinae Carina 1.7 325
    Mira Cetus 2-10 250

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