The Top 10 Closest Stars to Earth

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

Have you ever been stargazing and wondered which of those many stars are the closest to us? It turns out that the Sun and its planets have some pretty close-by stellar neighbors out here in the outskirts of the Milky Way Galaxy. While many stars are thousands or millions of light-years away, the closest ones lie within a few light-years. That's practically right in our cosmic back yard! Having them be so close is pretty cool, but what's even more exciting is that astronomers think those next-door neighbors have planets, too! Let's explore the top 10 closest star systems, which contain 15 stars in our immediate galactic community.

Edited by Carolyn Collins Petersen.

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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: our Sun. Yes, it's a star, and a very nice one at that. Astronomers call it a yellow dwarf star, but for us, it's the source of light and heat. 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). 

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Alpha Centauri

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 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, but is 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. It appears that Proxima may have a rocky planet! 

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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, but attempts to detect such objects have produced no trace of distant worlds around this star. 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.

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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 is very close. However, because it is so dim, this star is not visible to the naked eye. Wolf 359 is a faint red dwarf star, and is located in the constellation Leo. 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 primacy of the galaxy.

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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. This star has been of particular interest to astronomers as it may well have planets orbiting it. However, at a distance of 8.29 light-years it is not likely that we would be able to travel there in our lifetimes to see what those worlds are like or if they contain life. Still, astronomers will keep checking on possible worlds and their habitability for life.

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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)

The binary star system of Sirius A and Sirius B is located about 8.58 light-years from Earth, located in the constellation Canis Major. Known more commonly as the Dog Star, the combined output of both stars make Sirius the brightest star in the sky. Technically Sirius B is a white dwarf, the type of object that will be left behind once our Sun reaches the end of its life. Sirius is the brightest star in our night-time sky.

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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. 

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Ross 154

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.

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Ross 248

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

Ross 248, about 10.3 light-years from Earth, is actually moving so fast that in about 36,000 years it will actually take over the title as the closest star to Earth (besides our Sun). However, it will quickly begin moving away again and will relinquish the title about 9,000 years later. A dim red dwarf, it is a target of intense scientific study. 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, so we won't get any data from it (if we still exist). The star is currently located in the constellation Andromeda.

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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.

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Your Citation
Millis, John P., Ph.D. "The Top 10 Closest Stars to Earth." ThoughtCo, Jun. 19, 2017, Millis, John P., Ph.D. (2017, June 19). The Top 10 Closest Stars to Earth. Retrieved from Millis, John P., Ph.D. "The Top 10 Closest Stars to Earth." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 21, 2018).