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Beyond Earthly Skies

Nearest Stars: Past, Present and Future

11 Apr 2013, 14:29 UTC
Nearest Stars: Past, Present and Future
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At present, the nearest known star is Proxima Centauri which lies at a distance of 4.24 light years from the Sun. Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star and it is way to faint to be visible with unaided eyes from Earth. Nevertheless, Proxima Centauri is likely to be part of a triple star system with Alpha Centauri - a pair of sun-like stars located slightly further away at 4.37 light years. Although Alpha Centauri is a binary star system, it appears to the unaided eyes as a single star with a combined visual magnitude of -0.27, making it the 3rd brightest star in the night sky after Sirius and Canopus. Alpha Centauri and Proxima Centauri have not always been the nearest stars to the Sun. Over the course of time, a number of stars have been predicted to have come or will come much closer to the Sun.Figure 1: Distances of the nearest stars from 20,000 years ago until 80,000 years in the future. Credit: Matthews, R. A. J. (1994)Alpha Centauri and Proxima Centauri are predicted to come as close as 3 light years from the Sun about 27,000 years from now, before receding away. They will continue to ...

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