The 10 Closest Stars to Earth

The_bright_star_Alpha_Centauri_and_its_surroundings-1-.jpg
Alpha Centauri and its surrounding stars. This is a southern-hemisphere star, part of the constellation Centaurus. Digital Sky Survey/NASA

The starry sky is amazing to view, but it's also kind of deceptive. Observers take one look and think that perhaps the Sun is surrounded by nearby stars. As it turns out, the Sun and planets are somewhat isolated, but there are some nearby neighbors in our region ​on the outskirts of the Milky Way Galaxy. The closest ones lie within a few light-years of the Sun. That's practically right in our cosmic back yard! Some are large and bright, while others are small and dim. A few may have planets, as well. 

Edited by Carolyn Collins Petersen.

The Sun

Sunrise over Africa
Günay Mutlu/ Photorgapher's Choice RF/ Getty Images

Obviously, the top title holder on this list is the central star of our solar system: the Sun. Yes, it's a star and a very nice one at that. Astronomers call it a yellow dwarf star, and it has been around for about five billion years. It illuminates the Earth in the daytime and is responsible for the Moon's glow in the night. Without the Sun, life would not exist here on Earth. It lies 8.5 light-minutes away from Earth, which translates to 149 million kilometers (93 million miles). 

Alpha Centauri

1280px-Alpha-_Beta_and_Proxima_Centauri.jpg
The closest star to the Sun, Proxima Centauri is marked with a red circle, close to the bright stars Alpha Centauri A and B. Courtesy Skatebiker/Wikimedia Commons.

The Alpha Centauri system is the closest set of stars to the Sun. It actually contains three stars all doing a complex orbital dance together. The primary stars in the system, Alpha Centauri A, and Alpha Centauri B are about 4.37 light-years from Earth. A third star, Proxima Centauri (sometimes called Alpha Centauri C) is gravitationally associated with the former. It's actually slightly closer to Earth at 4.24 light-years away. If we were to send a light-sail satellite out to this system, it would likely encounter Proxima first. Interestingly enough, it appears that Proxima may have a rocky planet! 

Barnard's Star

Barnard's Star. Steve Quirk, Wikimedia Commons.

This faint red dwarf is about 5.96 light-years from Earth. It was once hoped that Barnard's star might contain planets around it, and astronomers made many attempts to try and spot them. Unfortunately, it appears to have no planets. Astronomers will keep looking, but it doesn't seem too likely that it contains planetary neighbors. Barnard's star is located in the constellation Ophiuchus.

Wolf 359

Wolf 359
Wolf 359 is the reddish-orange star just above the center in this image. Klaus Hohmann, public domain via Wikimedia.

Located only 7.78 light-years from Earth, Wolf 359 looks pretty dim to observers. In fact, to be able to see it, they have to use telescopes. It's not visible to the naked eye. That's because Wolf 359 is a faint red dwarf star, and is located in the constellation Leo.

Here's an interesting bit of trivia: it was also the location of an epic battle on the television series Star Trek the Next Generation, where the cyborg-human Borg race and the Federation fought for the primacy of the galaxy.

Lalande 21185

red dwarf star
An artist's concept of a red dwarf star with a possible planet. If Lalande 21185 had a planet, it might look like this. NASA, ESA and G. Bacon (STScI)

Located in the constellation Ursa Major, Lalande 21185 is a faint red dwarf that, like many of the stars in this list, is too dim to be seen with the naked eye. However, that hasn't kept astronomers from studying it. That's because it may well have planets orbiting it. Understanding its planetary system would give more clues to how such worlds form and evolve around older stars.

As close as it is (at a distance of 8.29 light-years) it is not likely that humans will travel there soon. Perhaps not for generations. Still, astronomers will keep checking on possible worlds and their habitability for life.

Sirius

Pictures of the Star Sirius - The Dog Star, Sirius, and its Tiny Companion
Pictures of the Star Sirius - The Dog Star, Sirius, and its Tiny Companion. NASA, H.E. Bond & E. Nelan(STScI); M. Barstow & M. Burleigh(Univ. of Leicester); & J.B. Holberg(UAz)

Nearly everyone knows about Sirius. It's the brightest star in our night-time sky. It's actually a binary star system containing Sirius A and Sirius B ​and lies 8.58 light-years from Earth in the constellation Canis Major. Known more commonly as the Dog Star. Sirius B is a white dwarf, the type of object that will be left behind once our Sun reaches the end of its life. 

Luyten 726-8

An x-ray view of Gliese 65, also known as Luyten 726-8. Chandra X-Ray Observatory

Located in the constellation Cetus, this binary star system is 8.73 light-years from Earth. It is also known as Gliese 65 and is a binary star system. One of the members of the system is a flare star and it varies in brightness over time. 

Ross 154

scorp_sag.jpg
A chart of the sky containing Scorpius and Sagittarius. Ross 154 is a faint star in Sagittarius. Carolyn Collins Petersen

At 9.68 light-years from Earth, this red dwarf is well known to astronomers as an active flare star. It regularly increases its surface brightness by an entire order of magnitude in a matter of minutes, then quickly dims down for a short time. Located in the constellation Sagittarius, it is actually a close neighbor of Barnard's star.

Ross 248

andromeda_perseus_dc.jpg
Ross 248 is a dim star in the constellation Andromeda. Carolyn Collins Petersen

Ross 248, about 10.3 light-years from Earth in the constellation Andromeda. It's actually moving so fast through space that in about 36,000 years it will actually take over the title as the closest star to Earth (besides our Sun) for about 9,000 years. 

Since it's a dim red dwarf, scientists are quite interested in its evolution and eventual demise. The Voyager 2 probe will actually make a close pass within 1.7 light-years of the star in about 40,000 years. However, the probe will most likely be dead and silent as it flies by.

Epsilon Eridani

The star Epsilon Eridani (the yellow star at the right) is thought to have at least two worlds orbiting it. NASA, ESA, G. Baco

Located in the constellation Eridanus, this star lies 10.52 light-years from Earth. It is the closest star to have planets orbiting around it. It also the third closest star that is visible to the naked eye.

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Millis, John P., Ph.D. "The 10 Closest Stars to Earth." ThoughtCo, Feb. 17, 2018, thoughtco.com/closest-stars-to-earth-3073628. Millis, John P., Ph.D. (2018, February 17). The 10 Closest Stars to Earth. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/closest-stars-to-earth-3073628 Millis, John P., Ph.D. "The 10 Closest Stars to Earth." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/closest-stars-to-earth-3073628 (accessed May 21, 2018).