by Michael Barrick and Alan Bernau Jr.
Admiring the stars above is a universally cherished pastime of humanity, especially on brisk summer nights around a campfire. They may appear close enough to touch, but the closest star, called Proxima Centauri, is a mind-boggling 4.244 light years away! To put that number into perspective, it is equivalent to 25.6 trillion miles. That is over 276,000 times the space between the Earth and our Sun.
Proxima Centauri is the smallest star within the triple star system, Alpha Centauri. In 2016, an Earth-like exoplanet called Proxima Centauri b was discovered orbiting within the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri. The equilibrium temperature of this planet is estimated to be within the range where water could be present, raising questions on the possibility of living organisms. However, scientists argue that immense solar flares emitted by Proxima Centauri may have rendered the planet’s atmosphere incompatible with life. Other experts have posed a solution to these conditions – the evolution of UV-resistant creatures. Proxima Centauri b is the closest known planet outside of our solar system.
The brightest star in the night sky, Sirius (AKA the “Dog Star”), is 8.659 light years away, which is over double the distance of the closest star. Sirius is often called the “rainbow star” because it appears to flash and twinkle a dazzling array of colors. This twinkling is actually the product of starlight reaching the Earth’s swirling, dynamic atmosphere.
This infographic sheds light on the closest stars beyond our Sun. It provides fascinating data on the size, constellations/systems, luminosity, and potential planets of every known star within 15 light years. Some are larger and brighter than the star that fuels our planet, which is truly bewildering to comprehend.