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50 closest star systems to earth and what we might find there

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NASA/JPL-Caltech/S. Stolovy (Spitzer Science Center/Caltech) // Wikimedia Commons

50 closest star systems to earth and what we might find there

Since operations began on Oct. 1, 1958, NASA has been exploring our solar system and the stars beyond. The sun is just one out of more than 100 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy—and these far-flung stellar bodies offer scientists some of the best clues to finding new planets. 

Astronomers use geometry to determine the distance of stars from Earth. As the Earth orbits the sun, the position of certain stars appears to change. That’s why some constellations only appear in the night sky during certain seasons. By measuring the apparent position of a star at one point of the year and comparing it to its position at another point six months later, when the Earth is on the opposite side of the sun, astronomers can figure out how far away the star is. Astronomers call this technique stellar parallax. Distance is measured in light-years, with one light-year being about 6 trillion miles.

Some stars are too far away for astronomers to calculate their distance with stellar parallax. In this case, astronomers estimate distance by comparing the unknown star’s brightness measurements and color observations with those of known stars.

Using NASA and other scientific sources, Stacker compiled a list of the 50 star systems closest to our sun, ranked by distance in light-years. Explore these systems to learn where to find them in the sky, what they can reveal about the universe, and which ones might provide the right conditions for habitable planets.

You may also like: 50 space terms for understanding the universe

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Panda~thwiki // Wikimedia Commons

#50. Gliese 412

- Distance from the sun: 15.98 light-years
- Star(s): Gliese 412 A, Gliese 412 B
- Discovered in: c. 1850

Gliese 412 is a binary star system in the constellation Ursa Major, otherwise known as the great bear or the Big Dipper. As part of a binary star system, Gliese 412’s two stars, aptly named Gliese 412 A and Gliese 412 B, orbit a common center of mass. Gliese 412 A and B are type M stars, or red dwarfs, meaning they’re small and cool relative to other stars. Red dwarfs appear to be a common star type in the Milky Way. These stars are named for their position in the “Gliese Catalog of Nearby Stars” originally developed by astronomer Wilhelm Gliese.

[Pictured: Ursa Major in the night sky.] 

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NASA/JPL-Caltech

#49. DEN 0255-4700

- Distance from the sun: 15.89 light-years
- Star(s): DEN 0255-4700 (brown dwarf)
- Discovered in: 1999

DEN 0255-4700, like the sun, is the lone star in its system. As a brown dwarf, DEN 0255-4700 is one of the coolest types of stars. Brown dwarfs are also small, lacking the mass required to burn hydrogen and produce starlight, which is why astronomers debate whether brown dwarfs technically qualify as stars. This object is part of one of the longest constellations, Eridanus, the river. The dwarf is named for the survey that helped astronomers discover it, NASA’s deep near-infrared survey of the southern sky, DENIS.

[Pictured: NASA artist's concept of a brown dwarf star(not DEN 0255-4700).] 

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NASA/ESA/STScI/G. Bacon

#48. Groombridge 1618

- Distance from the sun: 15.88 light-years
- Star(s): Groombridge 1618
- Discovered in: 1838

As a flare star, Groombridge 1618 varies in brightness thanks to flares erupting from its surface. For this reason, flare stars are sometimes called variable stars. It is also a dwarf star of the K variety, which astronomers think might support oxygen and methane containing atmospheres, a potential signature of life, in orbiting planets. At the moment, astronomers don’t know of any planets near the star. Groombridge 1618 and other K stars are brighter than red dwarfs, but dimmer than the sun, taking on an orange-yellow hue.

[Pictured: Illustration of flaring red dwarf star.] 

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NASA // Wikimedia Commons

#47. GJ 1002

- Distance from the sun: 15.82 light-years
- Star(s): GJ 1002
- Discovered in: 2012

GJ 1002 is another red dwarf. Although scientists have not identified any planets in this system, they’re monitoring red dwarf stars for any closely-orbiting planets that could harbor life. Stars that contain “GJ” as part of their name are also in the “Gliese Catalog of Nearby Stars.” The G stands for Gliese, and the J represents the other astronomer who prepared the catalog, Hartmut Jahreiss.

[Pictured: Artist's concept shows the Neptune-sized extrasolar planet (22 ME) circling the star Gliese 436.]

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ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5 m/R.Gendler/J-E. Ovaldsen/C. Thöne/C. Feron // Wikimedia Commons

#46. LHS 288

- Distance from the sun: 15.77 light-years
- Star(s): LHS 288
- Discovered in: 1986

This star is a red dwarf in the Carina constellation. Resembling a ship’s keel, the constellation is visible mostly from the southern hemisphere. LHS 288 might be accompanied by a planet, but astronomers have yet to verify this. LHS 288 appears in the “Luyten Half Second” catalog of stars, named for Dutch-American astronomer Willem Jacob Luyten.

[Pictured: The Carina nebula.] 

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NASA/G. Bacon (STScI) // Wikimedia Commons

#45. Gliese 876

- Distance from the sun: 15.25 light-years
- Star(s): Gliese 876
- Discovered in: Data not available

Red dwarf Gliese 876 is accompanied by four planets, Gliese 876 b, c, d, and e.Gliese 876 b and c orbit in the star’s habitable zone, the zone in which a planet might be warm enough to have liquid water. It appears in the constellation Aquarius, the water bearer, near other stars in water-related constellations, like Cetus.

[Pictured: Artist's concept of a gas giant planet orbiting the cool, red dwarf star Gliese 876, located in the constellation Aquarius.]

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European Southern Observatory/L. Calçada // NASA

#44. G 208-44 / G 208-45

- Distance from the sun: 15.21 light-years
- Star(s): G 208-44 A, G 208-44 B, G 208-45
- Discovered in: 1967

This three-star system of red dwarf flare stars isn’t particularly unique. Multi-star systems and single stars are equally common, according to astronomers.

[Pictured: Artist's impression of a triple-star system close to a giant planet orbiting in the system.]

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tonynetone // Flickr

#43. LP 145-141

- Distance from the sun: 15.12 light-years
- Star(s): LP 145-141 (white dwarf)
- Discovered in: 1917

Part of the Musca, or fly, constellation, LP 145-141 is a bright spot in the southern night sky. White dwarf stars are extremely old and dense—the only thing denser than a white dwarf is a neutron star. Small stars, like the sun, become white dwarfs toward the end of their lives after they’ve burned up all their hydrogen.

[Pictured: 3-D view of an interstellar molecular cloud in Musca constellation.]

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Tyrogthekreeper // Wikimedia Commons

#42. WISE J0521+1025

- Distance from the sun: 16.30 light-years
- Star(s): WISE J0521+1025 (brown dwarf)
- Discovered in: 2012

Astronomers discovered WISE J0521-1025 in 2012 as part of an effort to locate more brown dwarfs near the sun. WISE J0521-1025 was located by analyzing 2010 data from NASA’s wide-field infrared survey explorer (WISE) and older surveys.


[Pictured: Artist's concept of Brown Dwarf HD 29587 B.]

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NASA // Wikimedia Commons

#41. LHS 292

- Distance from the sun: 14.89 light-years
- Star(s): LHS 292
- Discovered in: Data not available

LHS 292 is located in the dim, kite-shaped constellation, Sextans. Another red dwarf and variable star, LHS 292 is similar to its stellar neighbors. This star also gets its name from the “Luyten Half Second” catalog, developed by the astronomer, Luyten.

[Pictured: Sextans constellation.] 

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NASA/ESA/the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble and W. Keel (University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa)

#40. Gliese 687

- Distance from the sun: 14.84 light-years
- Star(s): Gliese 687
- Discovered in: c. 1890

One known planet, GJ 687 b, orbits this red dwarf. This small system appears in the constellation Draco, the dragon, in the northern sky. GJ 687 b, a Neptune-like gas giant, is nearly as large as 20 Earths and appears to be inside Gliese 287’s habitable zone.

[Pictured: A pair of merging galaxies as observed by the Hubble Space Telescope containing the constellation Draco.]

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NASA/JPL/CalTech/IPAC/Robert Hurt // Wikimedia Commons

#39. Gliese 674

- Distance from the sun: 14.84 light-years
- Star(s): Gliese 674
- Discovered in: c. 1892

Gliese 674, like Gliese 687, is also a red dwarf orbited by a Neptune like planet, though a slightly smaller one. The planet, GJ 674 b, lies well outside the habitable zone. It is so close to Gliese 674 that it takes the planet just 4.7 days to orbit the star.

[Pictured: Artist's concept of GJ570D] 

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Casey Reed/NASA // Flickr

#38. L 1159-16

- Distance from the sun: 14.58 light-years
- Star(s): L 1159-16
- Discovered in: c. 1965

Three planets orbit L 1159-16, a red dwarf and flare star more commonly known as TZ Arietis.

[Pictured: Artist depiction of the incredibly powerful flare that erupted from the red dwarf star EV Lacertae.]

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NASA Goddard Space Flight Center // Flickr

#37. WISE 1639-6847

- Distance from the sun: 14.30 light-years
- Star(s): WISE 1639-6847 (brown dwarf)
- Discovered in: 2012

WISE 1639-6847 was also discovered using NASA’s WISE data. A lone brown dwarf, no known planets orbit this object.

[Pictured: Illustration of a lone brown dwarf star.] 

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NASA/ESA/G. Bacon (STScI) // Flickr

#36. Gliese 1

- Distance from the sun: 14.17 light-years
- Star(s): Gliese 1
- Discovered in: 1884

Gliese 1 is a red dwarf in the Sculptor constellation. The system is visible from the southern hemisphere.

[Pictured: Artist's impression shows two Earth-sized worlds passing in front of their parent red dwarf star.] 

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Sephirohq // Wikimedia Commons

#35. Van Maanen's star

- Distance from the sun: 14.07 light-years
- Star(s): Van Maanen's star (white dwarf)
- Discovered in: 1917

Van Maanen’s star, named for the Dutch-American astronomer who discovered it, is the closest known free-floating white dwarf to Earth. Recently, astronomers observed that van Maanen’s star is “polluted” with heavy elements. When formed from reactions within a star, heavy elements succumb to the star’s gravity and sink into its interior. Van Maanen’s star actually has heavy elements within its outer atmosphere, or photosphere, indicating that they came from elsewhere. Astronomers theorize that the gravity of nearby exoplanets is pushing comets and asteroids toward van Maanen’s star, but have yet to find any planets near this Pisces star.

[Pictured: A white dwarf star.] 

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ESO/Josh Barrington // Wikimedia Commons

#34. Wolf 424

- Distance from the sun: 14.05 light-years
- Star(s): Wolf 424 A, Wolf 424 B
- Discovered in: 1919

Wolf 424 is a binary star system in Virgo. Wolf 424 A and B are both red dwarfs and flare stars with no known planets.

[Pictured: NCG 4981, a part of the Virgo constellation.] 

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Feverskunk // Wikimedia Commons

#33. Wolf 1061

- Distance from the sun: 14.05 light-years
- Star(s): Wolf 1061
- Discovered in: 1919

Wolf 1061 is a resident red dwarf of the Ophiucus, or serpent bearer, constellation. It hosts three planets, Wolf 1061 c, d, and e, which scientists discovered in 2015. These planets are probably rocky, and one might even be in the habitable zone. 1061 c orbits between d and e, either near or just inside the habitable zone, depending on its orbit. This planet might actually be in the Venus zone, where a runaway greenhouse gas effect can take place, making the atmosphere inhospitable to life.

[Pictured: Artist's concept of an exoplanet similar to Wolf 1061c.] 

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NASA/JPL-Caltech // Wikimedia Commons

#32. UGPS J0722-0540

- Distance from the sun: 13.43 light years
- Star(s): UGPS J0722-0540 (brown dwarf)
- Discovered in: 2010

UGPS J0722-0540, occasionally shortened to UGPS 0722-05, is the closest, isolated brown dwarf to Earth. It’s also one of the reddest-looking and coldest brown dwarfs.

[Pictured: Artist's concept of a Y-dwarf star.] 

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NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

#31. Ross 614

- Distance from the sun: 13.42 light-years
- Star(s): Ross 614A, Ross 614B
- Discovered in: 1927

Ross 614 is a binary star system of two red dwarfs. Ross 614 A, a flare star, and Ross 614 B reside in the unicorn constellation, Monoceros. This system bears the name of Frank Elmore Ross, a 1920s astronomer who published the proper motions, the apparent movement of stars relative to the sun, of more than 800 stars.

[Pictured: An image taken by WISE shows the Rosette nebula located within the constellation Monoceros, or the Unicorn.]

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ESA/Hubble/NASA // WIkimedia Commons

#30. DEN 1048-3956

- Distance from the sun: 13.19 light-years
- Star(s): DEN 1048-3956 (red dwarf)
- Discovered in: 2001

A single red dwarf, DEN 1048-3956 is located in the Antlia, or air pump constellation. DEN 1048-3956 is also named for DENIS, NASA’s survey of the southern night sky.

[Pictured: ESO 376-16, located within the Antlia constellation.] 

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Francesco Malafarina // Wikimedia Commons

#29. Kruger 60

- Distance from the sun: 13.07 light-years
- Star(s): Kruger 60 A, Kruger 60 B
- Discovered in: 1880

Red dwarfs Kruger 60 A and B orbit each other about every 45 years, quite fast for a binary star system. Both are flare stars and part of Cepheus, or the king constellation.

[Pictured: The Garnet Star (Erakis/Herschel's Garnet Star/μ Cephei) is a star in Cepheus constellation.]

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Roberto Mura // WIkimedia Commons

#28. Lacaille 8760

- Distance from the sun: 12.95 light-years
- Star(s): Lacaille 8760
- Discovered in: 1753

Also known as AX Microscopii, Lacaille 8760 is one of the brightest red dwarfs. As its name suggests, AX Microscopii can be found in the constellation named for the microscope, Microscopium. The name Lacaille 8760 comes from Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille, a French astronomer who determined the positions of thousands of stars in the southern hemisphere in an expedition to South Africa.

[Pictured: Microscopium constellation.] 

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Roberto Mura // WIkimedia Commons

#27. Kapteyn's Star

- Distance from the sun: 12.83 light-years
- Star(s): Kapteyn's Star
- Discovered in: 1898

Amateur stargazers directing their telescopes to the southern sky can see Kapteyn’s star in the Pictor, painter’s easel, constellation. Kapteyn’s star, named for the Dutch astronomer who discovered it in 1898, may have two planets, or planet-like objects. The European Exoplanet Catalog lists their status as “controversial.” In 2014, when astronomers announced the discovery of the two planets, Kapteyn’s b and c, news outlets reported Kapteyn’s b might be in its star’s habitable zone. A year later, a separate team took another look at the data, calling the status of the planets into question.

[Pictured: Pictor constellation.] 

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European Southern Observatory (ESO) // Wikimedia Commons

#26. SCR 1845-6357

- Distance from the sun: 12.57 light-years
- Star(s): SCR 1845-6357 A, SCR 1845-6357 B (brown dwarf)
- Discovered in: 2004

This binary system consists of a red dwarf, SCR 1845-6357 A, and a brown dwarf, SCR 1845-6357 B. They reside in the southern hemisphere constellation of Pavo, the peacock.

[Pictured: Three-color image of SCR1845-6357AB generated from the SDI filter images.]

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IndividusObservantis // Wikimedia Commons

#25. Teegarden's Star

- Distance from the sun: 12.50 light-years
- Star(s): Teegarden's Star
- Discovered in: 2003

Teegarden’s star is a red dwarf in the constellation of Aries. NASA astrophysicist Bonnard Teegarden located the star when looking through the agency’s data sets, hoping to find dim, dwarf stars such as this one. Astronomers in 2019 announced the discovery of two planets around Teegarden’s star, both in the habitable zone. The system’s innermost planet, Teegarden b, is the most similar to Earth of the exoplanets discovered so far. The second planet, Teegarden c, might resemble Mars more than Earth, in terms of temperature.

[Pictured: Teegarden's Star located in the center of the image.]

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nubobo // Wikimedia Commons

#24. Luyten's Star

- Distance from the sun: 12.20 light-years
- Star(s): Luyten's Star
- Discovered in: 1935

Luyten’s star, bearing the name of astronomer Willem Jacob Luyten, is the red dwarf host of a two-planet system in Canis Minor, the lesser dog. A few months after the planets, GJ 273 b and c, were discovered in 2017, scientists of Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI) transmitted a message of music and science and math tutorials to potential intelligent life on GJ 273 b, which might be in the habitable zone. If any beings receive the message, a reply would reach Earth in 25 years.

[Pictured: Orion, Canis Minor and Canis Major. Canis Minor is located in the top left quadrant.] 

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NASA on The Commons // Flickr

#23. YZ Ceti

- Distance from the sun: 12.11 light-years
- Star(s): YZ Ceti
- Discovered in: 1961

Three planets—YZ Ceti c, d, and e—surround this red dwarf and variable star, but all are too close to fall into the habitable zone.

[Pictured: NASA Hubble Space Telescope view of the spiral galaxy NGC 4603, the most distant galaxy in which a special class of pulsating stars called Cepheid variables.]

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Dark Energy Survey/Giuseppe Donatiello // Flickr

#22. GJ 1061

- Distance from the sun: 11.98 light-years
- Star(s): GJ 1061
- Discovered in: 1995

GJ 1061 resides in a constellation in the southern sky, Horologium, or the clock. Also a red dwarf, GJ1061 may have three rocky planets in its orbit. In August of 2019, astronomers reported that of these potential planets, one of them, planet d, appears to be in GJ 1061’s habitable zone. GJ 1061 has low levels of stellar activity, like flares, which means that a hypothetical planet would not face extreme radiation, making it a more reasonable candidate for a life-supporting world.

[Pictured: Horologium constellation.] 

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Roberto Mura // WIkimedia Commons

#21. Epsilon Indi

- Distance from the sun: 11.87 light-years
- Star(s): Epsilon Indi A, Epsilon Indi Ba (brown dwarf), Epsilon Indi Bb (brown dwarf)
- Discovered in: 2003

This three-star system consists of an orange-yellow K star and two brown dwarfs: Epsilon Indi A, Epsilon Indi Ba, and Epsilon Indi Bb, respectfully. Epsilon Indi A, the brightest of the group and visible to the naked eye, also has a planet, Epsilon Indi Ab. This system appears in the southern constellation, Indus.

[Pictured: Indus constellation.] 

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NASA/Tim Pyle

#20. Tau Ceti

- Distance from the sun: 11.75 light-years
- Star(s): Tau Ceti
- Discovered in: c. 1600

A yellow, sun-like star relatively close to the solar system, Tau Ceti is in the belly of the whale constellation, Cetus. Tau Ceti has tempted astronomers looking for habitable exoplanets. This is because, as Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb has said, it is the closest sun-like star to the solar system. Four planets orbit the star: Tau Ceti g, Tau Ceti h, Tau Ceti e, and Tau Ceti f. Tau Ceti f, about four times the size of Earth, perhaps also a rocky planet, may be right on the edge of the habitable zone, according to NASA.

[Pictured: Kepler-11.] 

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David DeHetre // Flickr

#19. DX Cancri

- Distance from the sun: 11.68 light-years
- Star(s): DX Cancri
- Discovered in: 1972

DX Cancri is another red dwarf and flare star. Part of the constellation of Cancer, DX Cancri resides in the northern sky in the spring, and the southern sky in the fall. Cancer is the dimmest of the zodiac constellations, which means that DX Cancri and its neighbors are near impossible to spot without a telescope.

[Pictured: Cancer constellation located at center.] 

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OperaJoeGreen // Wikimedia Commons

#18. Groombridge 34

- Distance from the sun: 11.62 light-years
- Star(s): Groombridge 34 A (GX Andromedae), Groombridge 34 B (GQ Andromedae)
- Discovered in: 1813

Within the constellation Andromeda, this binary star system of red dwarf flare stars might host at least one planet orbiting Groombridge 34A. However, exoplanet-hunting is a complicated business, and after analyzing new observations of this system some astronomers report that they cannot confirm the presence of a planet. These stars are named for Stephen Groombridge, an English astronomer who cataloged thousands of stars.

[Pictured: Artist's conception of Arrakis.] 

 

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NASA/JPL-Caltech

#17. Struve 2398

- Distance from the sun: 11.49 light-years
- Star(s): Struve 2398 A, Struve 2398 B
- Discovered in: 1835

Struve 2398 is another binary system of red dwarf variable stars. Two planets orbit the slightly smaller star, Struve 2398 B.

[Pictured: Artist's concept illustrates a young, red dwarf star surrounded by three planets.] 

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Hubble European Space Agency/Akira Fujii // Wikimedia Commons

#16. Procyon

- Distance from the sun: 11.40 light-years
- Star(s): Procyon A, Procyon B (white dwarf)
- Discovered in: 1844

This bright star system lies at the tip of Canis Minor. Procyon A, a medium-heat, yellow-white star, outshines its white dwarf partner, Procyon B. It’s the eighth-brightest star in the sky.

[Pictured: The asterism of the Winter Triangle; the constituent stars are, starting from the bottom in a clockwise direction: Sirio, Procyon and Betelgeuse.] 

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IndividusObservantis // Wikimedia Commons

#15. 61 Cygni

- Distance from the sun: 11.40 light-years
- Star(s): 61 Cygni A, 61 Cygni B
- Discovered in: 1725

Stargazers can see both 61 Cygni A and B in the northern sky without the aid of a telescope. These two orange-colored stars are located in the constellation of Cygnus, the swan. 61 Cygni B, a flare star, was the first star, aside from the sun, for which astronomers determined distance from Earth.

[Pictured: Cygni A and B.] 

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NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/S. Wiessinger // Flickr

#14. EZ Aquarii

- Distance from the sun: 11.11 light-years
- Star(s): EZ Aquarii A, EZ Aquarii B, EZ Aquarii C
- Discovered in: 1937

EZ Aquarii is a trinary of red dwarfs, two of which, EZ Aquarii A and B, are flare stars.

[Pictured: Artist's rendering of a binary consisting of two red dwarf stars similar to EZ Aquarii A and B.] 

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ESO / M. Kornmesser // Wikimedia Commons

#13. Ross 128

- Distance from the sun: 11.01 light-years
- Star(s): Ross 128
- Discovered in: 1925

Ross 128, a red dwarf variable star, resides in Virgo. The star hosts one planet which astronomers believe might be just inside the habitable zone. This star is also named for the astronomer Frank Elmore Ross.

[Pictured: Artist's concept of the temperate planet Ross 128 b, with its red dwarf parent star (Ross 128) in the background.]

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ESO // Wikimedia Commons

#12. Lacaille 9352

- Distance from the sun: 10.72 light-years
- Star(s): Lacaille 9352
- Discovered in: 1753

A resident of the southern fish constellation, Piscis Austrinus, hosts three planets. This star was discovered in 1753 by Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille, one of more than 9,000 stars he cataloged over one year.

[Pictured: Triplet of galaxies that make up part of the Hickson Compact Group HCG 90 towards the constellation of Piscis Austrinus.] 

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NASA/JPL-Caltech

#11. Epsilon Eridani

- Distance from the sun: 10.45 light-years
- Star(s): Epsilon Eridani
- Discovered in: 150

Visible to the unaided eye, Epsilon Eridani is an orange-yellow K-type star in the constellation of Eridanus. Resembling an early version of the sun, Epsilon Eridani is a young star, less than a billion years old. It has one known planet, Epsilon Eridani b, which is a gas giant the size of 1.55 Jupiters. Two rings of debris, a bit like the solar system’s asteroid belt, surround the star as well. In the “Star Trek” series, Spock hailed from a fictional Epsilon Eridani planet, Vulcan.

[Pictured: NASA artist's concept of Epsilon Eridani.] 

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Adam Evan // Wikimedia Commons

#10. Ross 248

- Distance from the sun: 10.29 light-years
- Star(s): Ross 248
- Discovered in: 1925

This star is moving through space so quickly that in about 36,000 years, Ross 248 will take over the top spot in this gallery. But for the time being, this red dwarf is still over ten light-years away, in the constellation of Andromeda.

[Pictured: the Andromeda galaxy.]

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ESO/VPHAS+ team // Wikimedia Commons

#9. Ross 154

- Distance from the sun: 9.70 light-years
- Star(s): Ross 154
- Discovered in: 1925

Just inside the 10-light-year boundary, Ross 154 is a highly active flaring red dwarf star in Sagittarius. Frank Elmore Ross first recorded the star’s position in 1925.

[Pictured: The Lagoon Nebula which contains the Sagittarius constellation.] 

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Jschulman555 // Wikimedia Commons

#8. Luyten 726-8

- Distance from the sun: 8.79 light-years
- Star(s): Luyten 726-8 A, Luyten 726-8 B
- Discovered in: 1949

Another star named for the astronomer Luyten, Luyten 726-8 is another star system located in Cetus. Both are variable red dwarfs and because they’re relatively close to Earth, are valuable for astronomers looking to study active star systems.

[Pictured: Messier 77, located in the Cetus constellation.] 

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Hubble European Space Agency/Akira Fujii // Wikimedia Commons

#7. Sirius

- Distance from the sun: 8.66 light-years
- Star(s): Sirius A, Sirius B (white dwarf)
- Discovered in: 1844

Sirius A is the brightest star in the night sky, easily visible without a telescope. The name Sirius means glowing in Greek, and astronomical records from several ancient cultures mention this star. In 1844, German astronomer Friedrich Bessel concluded that based on Sirius’ movements in the sky, another, unseen star must exist nearby. This companion, a white dwarf called Sirius B, was confirmed in 1862. Both are prominent stars in the constellation Canis Major, the great dog.

[Pictured: Sirius A.] 

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NASA/Walt Feimer // Wikimedia Commons

#6. Lalande 21185

- Distance from the sun: 8.31 light-years
- Star(s): Lalande 21185
- Discovered in: 1801

Lalande 21185, named for French astronomer Joseph Jérôme Lefrançois de Lalande, is another red dwarf in Ursa Major. So far, astronomers have identified just one planet in this system: Lalande 21185 b.

[Pictured: A NASA artist's concept of a nearby red dwarf star.] 

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Klaus Hohmann // Wikimedia Commons

#5. Wolf 359

- Distance from the sun: 7.86 light-years
- Star(s): Wolf 359
- Discovered in: 1919

"Star Trek" fans will recognize Wolf 359 as the setting of a battle between the Borg race and the Federation for control of the galaxy. Astronomers know it as a dim red dwarf near the constellation of Leo, the lion. This flare star also hosts two planets, Wolf 359 b and c, confirmed in June of 2019.

[Pictured: Wolf 359 located near the center of the image.] 

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Penn State University/NASA/JPL-Caltech

#4. WISE 0855−0714

- Distance from the sun: 7.26 light-years
- Star(s): WISE 0855−0714 (brown dwarf)
- Discovered in: 2014

NASA’s Spitzer and WISE telescopes located this brown dwarf in 2014. Currently, it holds the title of the coldest brown dwarf known, comparable in temperature to the Earth’s North Pole.

[Pictured: Artist's conception of WISE J085510.83-071442.5.] 

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Tiouraren // Wikimedia Commons

#3. Luhman 16

- Distance from the sun: 6.50 light-years
- Star(s): Luhman 16A (brown dwarf), Luhman 16B (brown dwarf)
- Discovered in: 2013

This brown dwarf binary was also discovered thanks to WISE, but named for the astronomer who discovered them, Kevin Luhman. Astronomers thought that there might be an exoplanet accompanying one of the dwarfs, but analyses of Hubble Space Telescope data revealed no planets in the system. 

[Pictured: Luhman 16 binary system simulated in Celestia.] 

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Rogelio Bernal Andreo // Wikimedia Commons

#2. Barnard's Star

- Distance from the sun: 5.96 light-years
- Star(s): Barnard's Star
- Discovered in: 1916

Barnard’s star, located in the serpent bearer constellation was discovered by American astronomer E. E. Barnard in 1916. This variable red dwarf is orbited by a planet, Barnard’s b, an icy world more than three times the size of Earth. In about 10,000 years, Barnard’s star will outstrip the Alpha Centauri system as the closest stellar body to the sun, just 3.8 light-years distant.

[Pictured: Rho Ophiuchi molecular cloud complex, a part of the Ophiuchus constellation which hosts Barnard's Star.] 

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ESO/DSS 2 // Wikimedia Commons

#1. Alpha Centauri

- Distance from the sun: 4.37 light-years
- Star(s): Proxima Centauri, α Centauri A, α Centauri B
- Discovered in: 1915

Now officially known by its ancient name of Rigil Kentaurus, meaning "foot of the centaur" in Arabic, this star system is the closest to the sun. Despite Alpha Centauri's proximity, it would still take spacecraft tens of thousands of years to reach the nearest star in the system, Proxima Centauri. Even at the speed of light, the trip would still take more than four years.

Despite this hurdle, astronomers view Alpha Centauri as a prime target in the search for extraterrestrial life. Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf and a flare star discovered in 1915 by astronomer Robert Innes. At least one planet, possibly two, orbit the star. The one planet, called Proxima b, is similar to Earth in size and lies in the habitable zone of its star. This three-star system can be seen from Earth, but Proxima Centauri is a bit too dim for the naked eye to detect. Both α Centauri A and α Centauri B can be seen without telescopes.

[Pictured: Alpha Centauri.] 

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