Stars have captivated the imagination of humanity since the dawn of our existence. We know that the closest star to Earth is the sun, but what about the stars beyond our solar system? This infographic explores the 44 closest stars to us, examining the size, luminosity, constellations, systems, and potential planets of each star.
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What Is the Closest Star to Earth After the Sun?
The closest star to Earth besides the sun is Alpha Centauri, at a staggering distance of about 4.3 light years away. Alpha Centauri is actually a triple star system, which includes Proxima Centauri at 4.244 light years away, Alpha Centauri A at 4.365 light years away, and Alpha Centauri B at 4.37 light years away. So technically, Proxima Centauri is the nearest star. Alpha Centauri A is the the largest and brightest star in the system. It is about 10% more massive, 22% larger, and 150% brighter than our sun.
The burning question is, does Alpha Centauri have planets? In 2016, scientists announced the discovery of a super-Earth exoplanet orbiting our closest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri, the smallest star of the system. The planet Proxima Centauri b is believed to be a rocky and temperate world. The (habitability of Proxima Centauri b) has not been established, but scientists speculate that immense solar flares from Proxima Centauri may make the planet incompatible with life. However, these flares may be rare, or the planet could be inhabited by UV-resistant organisms.
How long does it take to travel to Alpha Centauri? Alpha Centauri is 25.6 trillion miles away, or more than 276,00 times the distance from Earth to the sun. A conventional space rocket traveling at 17,600 mph would take about 165,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri. At light speed, it would take approximately 4 years to reach Alpha Centauri … but unfortunately, we can’t travel that fast. In fact, our current understanding of physics and the natural world suggests that we will never be able to achieve light-speed or faster-than-light travel. So how will we get to Alpha Centauri? The Breakthrough Starshot Project plans to launch ultra-light nanocrafts toward Alpha Centauri. Equipped with lightsails, they would be propelled through space by a ground-based light beamer. They would have the potential to fly by Alpha Centauri in just more than 20 years, capturing images of the planet Proxima Centauri b. So while we currently do not have a means of reaching the planet physically, we may be able to gather more information on the closest planet outside our solar system in the not-so-distant future.
What Is the Brightest Star in the Sky?
The brightest star visible from Earth is Sirius, also known as the “Dog Star.” Its official name is Alpha Canis Majoris because it is the most prominent star in the constellation Canis Major. Sirius is about 25 times more luminous than the sun! Although it is white to blue-white in color, Sirius is called a rainbow star because it often flickers and twinkles a wide variety of colors. This twinkling is the product of the starlight hitting Earth’s swirling and ever-changing atmosphere.