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What Are The Most Famous Stars?

Betelgeuse was the first star directly imaged -- besides our own Sun, of course. Image obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: Andrea Dupree (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA), Ronald Gilliland (STScI), NASA and ESA

Betelgeuse was the first star directly imaged — besides our own Sun, of course. Image obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: Andrea Dupree (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA), Ronald Gilliland (STScI), NASA and ESA

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.

Polaris

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.

Time exposure centered on Polaris, the North Star. Notice that the closer stars are to Polaris, the smaller the circles they describe. Stars at the edge of the frame make much larger circles. Credit: Bob King

Time exposure centered on Polaris, the North Star. Notice that the closer stars are to Polaris, the smaller the circles they describe. Stars at the edge of the frame make much larger circles. Credit: Bob King

Sirius

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.

Artist’s impression of the planet around Alpha Centauri B. Credit: ESO

Artist’s impression of the planet around Alpha Centauri B. Credit: ESO

Betelgeuse

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.

Rigel

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.

An Orionid meteor slashes across the top of the frame directly above the constellation Orion early this morning October 22, 2014. Details: 24mm lens, f/2.8, 30-seconds at ISO 1600. Credit: Bob King

An Orionid meteor slashes across the top of the frame directly above the constellation Orion early this morning October 22, 2014. Details: 24mm lens, f/2.8, 30-seconds at ISO 1600. Credit: Bob King

Vega

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.

Pleiades

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.

Pleiades by Jamie Ball

Pleiades, also known as M45, is a prominent open star cluster in the sky. Image Credit: Jamie Ball

Antares

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.

Canopus

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.

Universe Today has articles on what is the North Star and types of stars. Here’s another article about the 10 brightest stars. Astronomy Cast has an episode on famous stars.

About 

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Steven February 11, 2015, 1:20 PM

    Eta Carina?

    Gliese 710? Ok – maybe that is a bit obscure.

    But who can forget Wolf359? Big battle there!

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