A page that will help you do your research regarding our neighborhood in space in case you want to make a sci-fi work. If you're wondering about stars in general, how they work, what their spectral classes mean, etc., see the Useful Notes article on Stars. This page is devoted to those stars within 50 light-years of The Solar System. Many of these stars are red dwarfsnote ; only the red dwarfs closest to Sol (less than 12 ly) are listed here. Except Gliese 581, which is important.
Proxima Centauri (4.22 light years away)Located in Centaurus, this is the closest star to us. A member of the triple system of Alpha Centauri, but far enough from the two larger members (about 0.21 ly) to be considered a separate star system for space travelers. Despite being the closest star to the Solar system, it (like all red dwarfs) is too dim to be seen with the naked eye from Earth. From a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri A or B, it would appear as an unremarkable fifth-magnitude star. A red dwarf with a flare tendency, it's a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.
Alpha Centauri (aka Rigel Kentaurus or Toliman, 4.35 ly away)Third brightest in the sky (although you can only see it from Miami, Brownsville or Hawaii if you're in the USA), this pair of yellow stars ("A", a very Sun-like G2V and "B", a somewhat dimmer K0V) is part of the Alpha-Proxima trio. B orbits A (or vice versa) in an elliptical orbit that would roughly range between Saturn and Uranus in our solar system. With enough room for close-in planetary systems around each star, you'd have a decent chance of getting an Earth-like planet there — and in fact, we've found one orbiting B. In addition, we've pretty much confirmed that neither star of this pair has a debris disk orbiting around it like Vega does. This is good sign that more planets might exist, since forming planets would have swept up any orbiting debris near their orbit. From Alpha Centauri, the Sun would appear as the brightest star in Cassiopeia. (At around magnitude 0.86, it would be the brightest in that constellation by far.) Even though the Alpha Centauri duo may be the nearest interesting stars to us, the distance to be covered to reach them is still immense. If Neptune were a 3 km bike ride away from the Sun, reaching Alpha Centauri would be a >27000 km grand marathon in which you bike over half way around the Earth. You may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space... Alpha Centauri B has one confirmed planet, Alpha Centauri Bb. It is Earth-sized (about 1.13 times the mass of the Earth) and orbits only a scant 6 million kilometers from B, giving it an orbital period that lasts a mere three-and-a-quarter days. It is also, most likely, tidally locked, so one half of the planet is a molten sea of lava, and the other is a huge icecap.
Barnard's Star (just under 6 ly)Small red dwarf, known for its rapid motion across the sky (relatively speaking - it takes about 180 years for it to move the width of the Moon in Earth's sky). In 1998, it was observed to emit a bright flare, making it a flare star and giving it the variable star designation V2500 Ophiuchi. Its rapid motion across the sky has given this star many names, including "Barnard's Runaway Star", "Greyhound of the Skies", and "Velox Barnardi". The fact that it's the closest star to the Sun in the constellation Ophiuchus has also given it the name "Proxima Ophiuchi." Thought for a while to have planets, still a possibility, which has led to Barnard's Star becoming a popular first destination for interstellar travel. However, Barnard's Star belongs to the older "Population II", which have very low concentrations of heavy elements. Direct measurements of its metallicity (from the relative strengths of the spectral lines for elements like iron, oxygen, etc.) shows it to have somewhere between 10% and 30% of the sun's heavy-element abundance. If there are planets around Barnard's Star, they're probably balls of hydrogen and helium, not rock and metal. In The Seventies, the British Interplanetary Society designed a fusion-powered interstellar rocket called Daedalus. (This rocket could not be built with the technology of the time, and still can't, but still stands on the drawing board in case efficient controlled nuclear fusion ever becomes a reality.) Barnard's Star was chosen as the destination, because the trip could be made in 50 years, so young folk at the time Daedalus was launched would have a good chance to still be alive when it reached its destination.
Wolf 359 (7.7 ly)A red dwarf with flare tendencies in Leo, it is not visible to the naked eye. At 0.09 solar masses, it's pretty close to the lower limit for actual stars.
Lalande 21185 (8.3 ly)Another flaring red dwarf, this one in Ursa Major. It's flares are very mild compared with other flare stars, and as such it has not received an official variable star designation. Lalande 21185 may or may not have planets — probably not.
Sirius aka the Dog Star (8.6 ly)A binary system, with a white main star (A0V) and a white dwarf secondary. The primary star is the brightest star in the night sky and the Canis Major of Canis Major, so to speak. As such, it played a big role in ancient calendars. Urban Legend attaches this to the "dog days" of late August/September - the Greeks thought that when Sirius was close to the sun in summer, it added its light and heat to the body. Sirius B's orbit is highly elliptical, coming closer to Sirius A at periastron than the Saturn-Sun distance, then winding up farther away at apapstron than the Neptune-Sun distance. It takes 50 years to complete one orbit. Neither star probably has planets, and if either of them does, habitable ones are unlikely. Any planet far enough away from Sirius A not to be toasted would pass close enough to Sirius B to get thrown out of the system. Any planet orbiting Sirius B would have been burned to a crisp when Sirius B went through its Red Giant stage in eons past. A chaotic jumble of young protoplanetary debris and dozens of planetesimals, constantly colliding and bombarding each other, is likely in Sirius A, and a dust disc, which often accompanies such systems, is suspected by infrared observations.
Luyten 726-8 (8.58 ly)A pair of red dwarf flare stars. Their Variable Star designations are "UV Ceti" and "BL Ceti". They orbit each other once every 26-and-a-half years, ranging in separation from a little over the Mars-Sun distance to nearly the Saturn-Sun distance. UV Ceti, the smaller of the two stars, is the most violent flare star known. Its name, in fact, is used by astronomers as the prototype for the flare star class:
Astronomer #1: "Hey, Charlie! What kind of variable star is V1216 Sagitarii?"
Astronomer #2: "Um ... it's a UV Ceti type variable."
Astronomer #1: "Oh, another flare star! Thanks, Charlie!"From either of these stars, the Sun would appear as a 1st magnitude star near Arcturus. Sirius would appear in the constellation of Sextans, Procyon would be in Leo, and Alpha Centauri would be next to Spica in Virgo.
WISE 1541-2250 (~9.3 ly)Currently (January 2012) the brown dwarf closest to the Sun, with a temperature of about 350 K (less than cooking water). As the search has started only recently, even closer brown dwarfs might exist.
Ross 154 (9.68 ly)Yet another red dwarf that flares. Most of the time, though, you'll need a big telescope to see it. Sometimes called by its lesser-known variable star designation, V1216 Sagitarii.
Ross 248 aka HH Andromedae (10.33 ly)It's red. It flares.
Epsilon Eridani (10.5 ly)An orange (K1V) star and among the closest systems likely to have a habitable planet. (The only closer one is Alpha Centauri). There may be a brown dwarf or a very dim red dwarf orbiting it widely. May have planets – a lot of astronomical attention in that field looks over here, as do searches for intelligent alien life of the "point a radio telescope at it and see if we hear anything" variety. NASA has marked them as #9 for their planned Terrestrial Planet Finder mission. While there are probably planets in the habitable zone here, finding life "as we know it" is improbable, as the entire system is far too young.note Epsilon Eridani itself is at most 1 billion years old, probably younger, and its planets would be younger still. Life there is at best in the "single-celled organism" phase—if not the "parents grunting and groaning in the next apartment over" bit. Note that in planetary formation science, grunting and groaning involves loads and loads of planetesimals colliding. Generally, the planetary system of Epsilon Eridani is yet another primordial jumble of dozens of small planetoids, rocks and dust.
Ross 128 (10.9 ly)Yet another red dwarf flare star. (Variable star designation: FL Virginis.)
EZ Aquarii (11.26 ly)A triple star system of red dwarfs designated A, B and C. EZ Aquarii A and C orbit each other very closely and B orbits the two further out. All three are flare stars.
Procyon aka Alpha Canis Minoris (11.41 ly)A white (F6IV) star with a white dwarf companion, its name comes from the Greek prokyon, meaning "before the dog" as it "precedes" Sirius when "traveling across the sky". It's a subgiant star that's starting to run out of gas. Given the A star's intrinsic brightness, its comfort zone would be at least 2.7 A.U. away based on visible light output alone; the actual comfort zone distance is probably closer to 3 A.U.. Unfortunately, at closest approach, A and B are only 9.5 A.U. apart, meaning any planet orbiting more than 2.4 A.U. away from Procyon A would be thrown out of the system by the other star. Procyon B, on the other hand, is a white dwarf, and any planets it could have are all fried to a crisp when it was a red giant and then frozen. Thus, if Procyon A or Procyon B has any planets, they're probably not going to be habitable. (Planets orbiting Procyon A might have been habitable back when the star was in the middle of its main sequence lifetime, when it would have been dimmer.)
61 Cygni aka Bessel's Star, or Piazzi's Flying Star (11.4 ly)A pair of orange K stars, visible but not noticeable. These are among the coolest main sequence stars that are still visible to the naked eye, being barely heavier and hotter than red dwarfs. Moving rapidly, relatively speaking. No planets or brown dwarfs so far detected. 11.4 light years away, and the first star other than the Sun to have its distance estimated (they got 10.4 light years - not bad for a first try!). Appears a fair bit in fiction.
Groombridge 34 (11.7 ly)A binary pair of red dwarfs, both of which are flare stars. (They carry the Variable Star designations "GX Andromedae" and "GQ Andromedae".) Their orbit is very wide — at closest approach, they're over 100 A.U. apart, and it takes nearly three millennia for them to go 'round each other once.
Epsilon Indi (11.8 ly)An orange star, quite bright for its class (K2). Notable in that it has a binary pair of magenta-ish T2 brown dwarfs as companions. The binary pair orbits Epsilon Indi with a wide separation (over 1000 AU) and itself is fairly close (2,5 AU). Like Epsilon Eridani, this is a very young system, less than a quarter the Sun's age, but not THAT young: the primordial planetesimal mess is already sorted out into neat little planetary orbits, and life may be already starting to evolve.
Tau Ceti (11.9 ly)The closest solitary Sun-like star to us, so appears a lot in fiction, and is #3 on the list for NASA's planned Terrestrial Planet Finder mission. Can be seen in the northern sky as a third-magnitude star – it's clearly visible but you'll probably only notice it specifically if you're looking for it. It's only about half as luminous as the Sun, despite being in the same spectral class - Tau Ceti is a G9V, Sol is a G2V. Tau Ceti also has only about 30% as high a concentration of heavy elements as the sun does; presumably the planets orbiting it are equally low in heavy elements. Three "super-earth" sized planets have been confirmed to orbit this star, each too close for liquid water to exist on their surfaces. As of December 2012, there is indirect evidence that Tau Ceti might also harbor a 4-earth-mass planet in its habitable zone. The jury is still out, though. Note, though, that most of our current evidence suggests that the Tau Ceti planets are low-density. That is, there are no rocky surfaces: they are at best waterworlds (in the biozone), or worse, mini-neptunes (out of the biozone).
40 Eridani, aka Omicron2 Eridani or Keid (16.5 ly)Triple system with a main orange (K1V), a white dwarf (DA) and red dwarf (M5V). #10 on the list for NASA's planned Terrestrial Planet Finder mission.
Altair aka Alpha Aquilae (16.8 ly)A class A7 blue-white main sequence star, the brightest in Aquila, twelfth brightest in the night sky. Name is an abbreviation of an Arabic phrase meaning "the flying eagle". It spins so fast (once every nine hours) it's noticeably egg-shaped. Altair is unusually bright for its temperature, suggesting that it may be a subgiant star, about to stop hydrogen fusion and begin expanding into a red giant. Despite this, it is much younger than the Sun, perhaps 900 million years old at most.
Eta Cassiopeiae (19.42 ly)A yellow G class, very similar to our Sun. Has an orange K7V companion, Eta Cassiopeiae B, which is a likely candidate for Earthlike planets, too. The distance between the two stars is 77 au, which is more than enough for both stars to have full planet systems with terrestrials and gas giants. Larger-than-Jupiter gas giants and brown dwarfs, though, are highly unlikely, since they would be already detected. #4 on the list for NASA's planned Terrestrial Planet Finder mission.
82 Eridani (19.77 ly)A class G8V star in Eridanus, visible but inconspicuous to the naked eye. It's not widely featured in fiction, however, it is rated as being fairly likely to support habitable planets.
Delta Pavonis (19.92 ly)A class G subgiant star, the fourth-brightest in the constellation Pavo (the Peacock). It's at the end of its lifespan as a main-sequence star, but is in many other ways similar to the Sun; it might be useful to think of it as the Sun's semi-identical older brother. It about to stop fusing hydrogen and is in the process of becoming a red giant, so any habitable planet nearby is about to get fried.
Gliese 581 (20.3 ly)A Class M3V red dwarf star in Libra. Although it's technically a flare star (variable star designation: HO Librae), it's a very mild one; a flare event increases the star's brightness by only about a hundredth of a magnitude. It's among the closest stars known to have a planetary system as complex as the Sun's — at least six planets, ranging from 1.7 Earth masses (Gliese 581 e) to 15.6-30.4 Earth masses (Gliese 581 b). Gliese 581 d and g are the most interesting — at 5.6 and 3.1 Earth masses respectively, they are probably rocky planets with 581 g orbiting entirely within Gliese 581's habitable zone (581 d is the local equivalent of Mars: close but not close enough). Gliese 581 g is believed to be tidally locked with its star. Two messages have been sent in Gliese 581's general direction; the first will arrive in 2029, with any response arriving no sooner than 2049 (assuming its hypothetical inhabitants don't have Faster-Than-Light Travel).
Beta Hydri (24.33 ly)Another yellow subgiant (G2IV), similar to Delta Pavonis. A large, four times the mass of Jupiter, gas giant is suspected in a roughly 8 AU orbit. In our skies looks like the brightest star near the South Pole. It's #5 on NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder mission.
Vega (25.3 ly)Also known as Alpha Lyrae. A white A0V type similar to Sirius, spinning fast enough to be bulged at the center. Possesses a debris disk, like a large asteroid belt, but no actual planets known of so far. Was the pole star as seen from Earth 14000 years ago and will be the pole star again in about 11000 years.
Fomalhaut (25.7 ly)Also known as Alpha Piscis Austrini. A class A3 main-sequence star similar to Sirius or Vega, with a pronounced dust disk. Its name means "Mouth of the Whale/Fish" in Arabic.note It has at least one planet, which was the first to be detected by direct imaging in visible lightnote , and the first discovered around an A-class star.
Pi3 Orionis (26.3 ly)A yellow-white (F6) star in Orion, three times as bright as the Sun. Some kind of substellar companion is detected, which could be a large gas giant planet (or several) or a brown dwarf, with an approximate semimajor axis of 5.2 AU. This star is largely forgotten by science fiction, but scores a #7 on the NASA Terrestrial Planet Finder list.
AP Columbae (27 ly)The closest protostar. This is a future M-class red dwarf which hasn't started fusion yet. Some planetesimals are likely, but no useful planets are possible.
Chara aka Beta Canum Venaticorum (27.7 ly)A solar analog yellow dwarf (G0V or F9.5V depending on who you ask), and the second brightest star in the dim constellation Canes Venatici (the hunting dogs). It is a very promising candidate for the presence of Earth-like planets. It's been mentioned as one of the best stars to search for signs of life, as well. Somewhat like the Sun, its nearby stellar neighborhood contains several other stars which may be potential abodes for life. Most prominent among these is its near neighbor Beta Comae Berenices, which is about 5-8 light-years away. (As the two stars are similar in distance from the Sun, they appear a good distance apart in Earth's sky, though still in the same general area.)
Beta Comae Berenices (29.9 ly)A yellow dwarf star in the constellation Coma Berenices, which, despite its "beta" designation, is the brightest star in that constellation. It's an F9 or G0 star, just slightly younger than the Sun, rated as having pretty good odds of having an Earth-like or Mars-like planet in the habitable zone. It's a little bit hotter and whiter than the Sun. There don't seem to be any stellar-mass companions or closely orbiting gas giants, which bodes well for the presence of Earth-like planets. While it hasn't made much appearance in widely published fiction, it's not infrequently featured in web original works recently.
Beta Virginis (35.6 ly)A sunlike star (class F9 V, metal-rich) with no orbiting companion star. Also known as "Zavijava" and "Alaraph." Sadly, no planets have (yet) been detected orbiting it, but scientists guesstimate that there are two or three gas giants in the Zavijava system.
Arcturus aka Alpha Boötis (36.5 ly)A bright late K-class red giant which is the fourth brightest star in the sky behind Sirius, Canopus and Alpha Centauri. It's the third brightest single star, however. (Alpha Centauri's two components would be individually quite a bit dimmer than Arcturus, but they're close enough together to be perceived as a single star.) It's hot for a red giant, but quite a bit cooler than the Sun. As a red giant, Arcturus has probably destroyed or ejected any habitable planets it once had, but again the fact that it's a Population II low-metalnote star means they likely weren't chock full of the building blocks of life anyway.
Zeta Reticuli (39.8 ly)A wide binary star in the constellation Reticulum (the Net - it's supposed to be the targeting recticule for a telescope). Reputedly the home system of The Greys, thanks in part to the account of Betty and Barney Hill. As the system consists of two Sun-like main sequence stars (G2V/G5V) orbiting each other very widely (almost 4000 AU), it is possible that the system harbors habitable planets - potentially around either star, although there is a debris disk around Zeta2 Reticuli that might indicate a lack of planets. A spacefaring civilization seems unlikely, albeit not impossible – current means of detecting interstellar radio signals could very likely not detect Earth at a distance of 10 ly, much less the nearly 40 ly to Zeta Reticuli. The star system also has a somewhat low metallicity, having only 60% of the heavy element abundance present in our Solar system; this might mean less material out of which solid planets could have formed. Oddly, both stars are somewhat dimmer than expected for their mass and temperature, possibly due to their fairly low metallicity.
55 Cancri, a.k.a. Rho1 Cancri (41 ly)A binary dwarf star in Cancer; the primary star, 55 Cancri A, is a class G8V yellow dwarf, and notable for having the third-biggest known solar system (after ours, of course, and Gliese 581's), with 5 planets. 55 Cancri f is the most interesting of these, as it orbits entirely within 55 Cancri A's habitable zone (in fact, it is the first planet discovered to do so). 55 Cancri f is itself a gas giant roughly half the mass of Saturn, but if it is anything like our gas giants, it will have a veritable swarm of moons, some of which may be conducive to life, and so 55 Cancri A has the #63 slot for NASA's planned Terrestrial Planet Finder mission. A radio message has been beamed to this star's vicinity; it will arrive in 2044. When referring to the other planets, be careful to use lowercase letters. 55 Cancri b was the first planet discovered to be orbiting 55 Cancri A, and is about a tenth of an A.U. away from it. 55 Cancri B (with a capital B), on the other hand, is the second star in the binary system, a class M4 red dwarf orbiting 1000 A.U.s away from 55 Cancri A. It is probably more proper to call the first planet 55 Cancri Ab.
Upsilon Andromedae (44 ly)A wide binary system consisting of an F8V main sequence star and a cool, dim red dwarf. Since it's been confirmed to have at least three planets, the system has turned up from time to time in fiction. One of these planets is known to be in the habitable zone: it's a gas giant, but could have Earth-like moons. The companion star orbits far enough out to potentially have its own planetary system, but none has been detected so far.
18 Scorpii (45.1 ly)A Class G2Va star in Scorpio. We don't know if it has any planets, but it is a nearly-perfect solar twin, and the closest of all such known stars. A couple of useful external links