Hollywood has a bit of an obsession with stars — just ask those people who are huge fans of George Clooney or Julia Roberts. But here on Universe Today, we focus more on stars in the Universe.
There are untold billions of these celestial objects, but some of them are more famous to Earthlings than other ones. Here is a sampling of some of the more well-known stars.
Also known as the North Star, it’s been used as a navigational tool in the northern hemisphere for centuries. Interesting enough, it hasn’t always been the north star. That’s because Earth’s axis wobbles over thousands of years and points in different directions. But for now, it’s our guide. More scientifically, we call it Alpha Ursae Minoris and it is part of the constellation Ursa Minor (the Little Bear). It’s more than 430 light-years away from Earth.
Also known as the Dog Star, because it’s the brightest star in Canis Major (the big dog). In ancient times, it was seen as a signal for the summer and (in Egypt) that the Nile flooding was nigh. It’s easy to spot as it’s actually the brightest star in the sky. It’s also close, at about 8.6 light-years. A companion star, Sirius B, was discovered in 1862.
Alpha Centauri system
It’s one of the closest systems to Earth, at just a shade over four light-years. In 2012, astronomers discovered an Earth-sized planet around Alpha Centauri B (unfortunately, it’s likely too hot to host life). The closest one to Earth is called Proxima Centauri. The grouping is in the constellation Centaurus.
Fans of Tim Burton may remember a little film called Beetlejuice in the 1980s, but it bears little resemblance to the star. What excites astronomers about Betelgeuse is it will one day go supernova; we just don’t know exactly when. It’s a bright red supergiant star that’s easy to spot in the constellation Orion, and is roughly 650 light-years from Earth.
Another famous star in Orion is Rigel, which is a bright blue star. It’s Orion’s brightest star and has at least two companion stars with it that pop out in powerful telescopes. It’s a young star, only 10 million years old, and is also expected to go supernova when it reaches the end of its life. It’s located about 770 light-years from Earth.
Vega is another bright blue star that anchors the otherwise faint Lyra constellation (the Harp). Along with Deneb (from Cygnus) and Altair (from Aquila), it is a part of the Summer Triangle in the Northern hemisphere. It once used to be the North Star (imagine how awesome that would have been for navigation) and is only about 25 light-years from Earth.
Technically this is a famous star cluster, but nevertheless: the “seven stars” are spaced far enough part that you resolve them easily with binoculars or a telescope. (There are actually far more than seven stars, but that’s how the ancients referred to it). The Pleiades are part of the Taurus constellation and coincidentally, are near in the sky to another star cluster known as the Hyades. They’re roughly 450 light-years from Earth.
So called because it was considered by the ancients to be a “rival to Mars” (or Ares), Antares does indeed have some resemblance to the Red Planet in the sky. It’s red and also happens to be located close to the ecliptic, the imaginary band in the sky where the planets, Moon and Sun move. At over 600 light-years from Earth, Antares is in the constellation Scorpius.
The second-brightest star in the sky, Canopus is over 300 light-years away from Earth. It’s commonly used for spacecraft to orient themselves in space, since it is so bright compared to the stars surrounding it. It’s in the constellation Carina.