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"Aldebaran's great, okay;
Algol's pretty neat;
Betelgeuse's pretty girls will knock you off your feet..."

Space is vast. There are hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy alone, and hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe as a whole. Yet science-fiction writers frequently use the same collection of stars as a setting when writing their stories, despite having literally infinite room to create their own from scratch.

Part of this is because, while there are a lot of stars out there, only a few are close enough to visit within one human lifetime (unless the setting makes use of Casual Interstellar Travel, in which case these stars tend to constitute our "local neighborhood"). There's also the fact that many of these names simply sound awesome and futuristic, and may already have some name recognition with the audience.

Among the list of stock stars are the following:

  1. Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to Earth at a distance of 4.37 light-years. The system consists of three stars: a pair of sun-like Binary Suns (Alpha Centauri A and B) that orbit each other's shared center of mass, and a red dwarf called Proxima Centauri that orbits the pair about 13,000 AUs (13% of a light-year) out. Proxima is the closest of the three to Earth, hence the name — Latin for "nearest". Proxima is known to have at least one planet in its habitable zone, although frequent solar flares unleashed by the red dwarf make life as we know it unlikely to thrive there.
  2. Barnard's Star, a red dwarf about 6 light-years away. Has one unconfirmed planet, a super-Earth that orbits well outside its sun's habitable zone and would likely be an ice planet as a result.
  3. Wolf 359, a red dwarf 7.9 light-years from Earth. It's believed to be fairly young — less than a billion years old — and no planets have yet been found orbiting it. It's the fourth closest star system to the Sun. It has one of the smallest masses of and is one of the faintest of known stars.
  4. Sirius, also known as the "Dog Star" due to how it follows the constellation of Orion like a hound following a hunter, is the brightest star in the night sky — all brighter objects are planets or the Moon — and located about 8.6 light-years away. It's actually another binary system, with a large blue star and a tiny white dwarfnote  orbiting their shared center of mass every fifty years.
  5. Epsilon Eridani, an orange star located 10.5 light-years away. It has two rocky asteroids belts and, it's believed, at least two planets. While it's tempting to think that life could exist there, the star is believed to be less than a billion years old, which means any such life would likely be microbial at best.
  6. Procyon, a binary system very similar to Sirius, but with a white primary rather than blue. It's located 11.5 light-years from Earth.
  7. Tau Ceti, a very sun-like yellow star 12 light-years away. The star has four confirmed planets, all larger than Earth, the outermost of which is in its habitable zone. Unfortunately, any native life would have to contend with frequent Colony Drop events: Tau Ceti is orbited by a real life Asteroid Thicket, having an asteroid belt with ten times as many as that of the sun.
  8. 40 Eridani, a triple-star system 16 light-years away. The central star (40 Eridani A) is an orange dwarf, which is orbited by a white dwarf (B), a red dwarf (C), and one confirmed planet. The planet is too close to its sun to support life as we know it, but the system remains a popular choice for settings with habitable worlds.
  9. Altair, a blue star about twice the mass of the sun and eleven times as bright, located 16.7 light-years away.
  10. Vega, the fifth-brightest star in the night sky, located 25 light-years away. A blue giant, it actually served as Earth's north star around 12,000 BC and will do so again in another 13,000 years. It rotates very rapidly, to the point that it has a very pronounced bulge around its equator due to centrifugal force.
  11. Arcturus, an orange giant located 36.7 light-years away and the fourth-brightest star in the night sky.
  12. Zeta Reticuli, a binary system with two yellow stars, located 39 light-years away. This one entered the public consciousness in 1961 via Barney and Betty Hill, who claimed that they were abducted by a UFO from the Zeta Reticuli system.
  13. Aldebaran, an orange giant 65 light-years away. Has at least one planet, a gas giant about six times as massive as Jupiter.
  14. Regulus, a blue giant orbited by two smaller stars, orange and red in color. The system is 79 light-years away.
  15. Algol, a triple-star system 92.8 light-years away. The stars frequently eclipse each other, giving the system the appearance of pulsing every three days (making it what's known as a variable star). This apparent instability has earned it the colloquial nickname "the Demon Star", and Algol is considered unlucky.
  16. Antares, a red supergiant 550 light years away. It's very close to the end of its lifespan and expected to go supernova any time within the next ten thousand years. It poses no danger to the Earth, but when it blows it could become as bright as the full moon in the night sky for up to a year - and visible during the day.
  17. Betelgeuse, one of the largest stars visible to the naked eye - if it were in the Sun's location, its surface would stretch all the way to Jupiter. Another candidate expected to go supernova within the next million years. Previously thought to be about 640 light-years away, more recent estimates place it at about 530 light-years away.
  18. Rigel, a massive blue supergiant believed to be 860 light-years away. The system is very similar to Regulus in structure, with three other blue stars orbiting it at a distance.
  19. Deneb, a blue-white star located around 2,620 light-years away (though there's some disagreement as to the exact distance). Believed to be on its way to evolving into a cooler red giant before collapsing into a supernova.
  20. Cygnus X-1, the first astronomical object widely recognized to be a Black Hole. Located 6,070 light-years away, the black hole (believed to be 10-20 times as massive as our Sun) regularly eats matter from its blue supergiant companion and produces X-rays easily detectable from Earth despite its great distance.

In addition to stars, many real-world nebulae and other astronomical objects are used in much the same way. Among them are:

  1. The Horsehead Nebula (or Barnard 33) is a dark nebula in the constellation of Orion, located 1,400 light-years away. It stands out against a background of red ionized hydrogen gas and is a site where low-mass stars are forming.
  2. The Crab Nebula, a massive Space Cloud formed by a supernova (which was actually witnessed by astronomers on Earth in 1054) which also left behind a pulsar. The nebula's scattered appearance and bright colors make for some very powerful apocalyptic imagery. The nebula is located ~6,500 light-years away.
  3. The Eagle Nebula, located ~7,000 light-years from Earth, best known for the iconic "Pillars of Creation", a collection of dust clouds that are in the process of forming new stars. Sadly, it's believed that the Pillars may have been eroded to the point of destruction by a nearby supernova around 6,000 years ago, which should become visible from Earth when the light reaches us inside a millenium.
  4. The Andromeda Galaxy, a large spiral galaxy roughly 2.5 million light-years from Earth. Any setting involving other galaxies is sure to mention Andromeda at some point, it being relatively close to the Milky Way and very similar in structure. Andromeda is actually moving toward us relatively quickly, and is expected to collide and merge with the Milky Way in a few billion years and form a single mega-galaxy.

See also Conveniently Close Planet, The Milky Way Is the Only Way, and What Other Galaxies?

For more real-world information about many of the stars listed above, see Local Stars.

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Examples using Alpha Centauri:

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Avatar: Pandora is a moon in the Alpha Centauri A system. This is only implied in the film itself, but confirmed in the backstory.

  • Across the Universe (Beth Revis): The Godspeed is on a 300-year mission to colonize "Centauri-Earth", a habitable circumbinary planet orbiting Alpha Centauri A and B.
  • Captain French, or the Quest for Paradise: Humanity's first interstellar flight involved a near-light jump to Alpha Centauri, where the titular protagonist discovered a habitable planet, which he named after his daughter Penelope. It's one of the first exoplanets settled by humanity.
  • Childe Cycle, by Gordon R. Dickson: The planets of Newton and Cassida orbit Alpha Centauri B and Alpha Centauri A respectively. Newton, being the scientific powerhouse it is, dominates the system as a whole. This was changed from earlier versions, where Newton originally orbited Arcturus.
  • Footfall: Lampshaded by the Robert A. Heinlein stand-in, during the discussion of where the aliens came from. At first "Bob" didn't like the theory that the aliens were coming from Alpha Centauri, but then "It's trite. But, you know, it's trite because it got used so much and it got used so much because it's the best choice."
  • Foundation: In "The Encyclopedists", 61 Cygni, Alpha Centauri, Sirius and the third planet of Arcturus are mentioned by Lord Dorwin as among the star systems that lay claim to being the homeworld of humanity, along with, of course, Sol.
  • Known Space: Wunderland, the very first human colony outside of the Solar System, orbits Alpha Centauri A.
  • Planet of the Apes: The original novel novel was set on a planet in the Alpha Centauri system.
  • Proxima depicts the efforts to colonize a planet in the Proxima Centauri system called Per Ardua, which is a Tidally Locked Planet and experiences frequent Solar Flare Disasters that the native life has evolved to take shelter from.
  • The Three-Body Problem depicts the centuries-long conflict between Earth and Trisolaris, a planet in the Alpha Centauri system. In the book, Alpha Centauri's three stars orbit each other in a chaotic pattern with Trisolaris itself being kicked around between them like a football, frequently subjecting it to extinction-level events due to its extremely unpredictable climate.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5: Subverted — the Centauri Republic is not from the Alpha Centauri star system, they just call themselves "Centauri." This lead humans to drop the "Centauri" from their star names to avoid confusion, so someone referring to a colony on Proxima III is referring to Proxima Centauri.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
      • Among the Federation ships destroyed by the Dominion as of "In Purgatory's Shadow" is the U.S.S. Proxima, named for Proxima Centauri.
      • "Past Tense, Part II": One of the signs the timeline's been altered is that the Defiant is picking up Romulan communication signals near Alpha Centauri.
      • After Betazed falls to the Dominion in "In the Pale Moonlight", Dax notes that the Jem'Hadar can now threaten Alpha Centauri, along with Vulcan, Andor, and Tellar.
    • Star Trek: Enterprise: Proxima Centauri has a major Earth colony as early as the 2150s, and Zefram Cochrane (the inventor of warp drive) is known to have retired there before disappearing. Interestingly, Proxima was not the first human extrasolar colony — that honor went to Eta Cassiopeia, a star about nineteen light-years away, as depicted in "Terra Nova".
    • Star Trek: Discovery: Stamets describes meeting his husband in a bar in the Alpha Centauri system.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 2300 AD uses many of the nearby stars as significant colonies or outposts, but only "Tirane" orbiting Alpha Centauri is mature enough to be considered a core world, almost on par with Earth itself.

    Video Games 
  • Alien Legacy has Earth attacked by beings from Alpha Centauri in the backstory, necessitating the construction of colony ships to ensure humanity's survival elsewhere.
  • Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri is pretty self-explanatory: it's set on a planet called Chiron (or "Planet"), orbiting Alpha Centauri A. Alpha Centauri B is called Hercules in-game, since the star's official name Toliman was only approved in 2018.
  • Stellaris: Alpha Centauri A is a scripted colony site for Earth-based empires.

  • Outsider: The six worlds settled by humanity include the fifth world of Alpha Centauri A and the third of Alpha Centauri B. Alpha Centauri A V was, notably, humanity's first extrasolar colony, while Alpha Centauri B III was the second.

    Real life 
  • Alpha Centauri in general, and Proxima Centauri in particular, are frequently cited as an obvious destination for humanity's first interstellar missions due to the system's proximity to Earth. At least one planet has already been found orbiting Proxima, so it's not hard to imagine that future generations of space explorers will have somewhere interesting to go provided that interstellar travel becomes a thing.

Examples using other stars:

    Films — Live-Action 

  • Childe Cycle: In addition to Alpha Centauri (see section above), the Cycle uses a number of these for major systems in the series:
    • Altair has Dunnin's World, a dry, low-population backwater of a planet. Which makes sense considering the primary: blue stars emit far more light than yellow stars, so planets orbiting them will receive far more energy than the Earth does.
    • Epsilon Eridani, with the rocky worlds of Association and Harmony. They're the homes of the Friendlies, ascetic but hardcore religious folk who ironically don't along very well with each other.
    • Sirius has the worlds of Freiland and New Earth, both terraformed to allow human habitation.
    • Procyon hit the jackpot of habitable worlds, having three. Two of them, Kultis and Mara, are ruled by the powerful Exotics. The third is Ste. Marie, a farming world with some importance for being in the same system as the Exotics. There is also a fourth planet inhabited by humans — Coby — but it's an airless planet that is settled underground because of its rich metal resources.
    • Tau Ceti has one colonized world, the simply named Ceta. A massive planet that has the same gravity of Earth due to the lack of heavier metals. Thankfully it doesn't suffer from frequent meteor storms.
  • Dune: Richese is the fourth planet in the Epsilon Eridani system. There's some question as to the location of the planet Ix. Some sources also place it in Epsilon Eridani, while others claim it's located in the Mu Bo├Âtis system. In either case, it's the ninth planet from the star, hence the name.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Multiple stock stars appear throughout the series.
    • The Betelgeuse system is the home of Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox.
    • Barnard's Star, six light-years away from Earth, is a way station for interstellar travelers and where the Vogon ship goes into hyperspace and Arthur Dent realizes he's now a long long way away from home.
    • Sirius also hosts a long-speculated-about race of intelligent aliens that speculation and folklore on Earth has ascribed to this star — only the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation designs and builds superbly flawed and irritating robots, like Marvin.
    • Aldebaran is noted for its fine wines and liqueurs.
    • Arcturus is home to a wide variety of megafaunal animals all named "Arcturan Mega[Earth animal]", such as Arcturan Megadonkeys, Arcturan Megacamels and Arcturan Megaleeches, in addition to being the home port of Arcturan Megafreighters and the source of Arcturan Mega-Gin, a key component in the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.
    • Numerous stars are mentioned in a popular ditty: "Aldebaran's great, okay; Algol's pretty neat; Betelgeuse's pretty girls will knock you off your feet..."
  • H. P. Lovecraft:
    • "Beyond the Wall of Sleep" features a battle between a "light being" and its evil nemesis at Algol, resulting in a nova in the night sky near this star.
    • Cthulhu Mythos: In some works, Hastur resides on a planet orbiting a dark star near Aldebaran.
  • "I'm a Stranger Here Myself" describes two disguised aliens meeting in a bar on Earth. One is from Aldebaran, and is on Earth to stir up wars for thrill-seeking tourists to take part in; the other is from Deneb, and is on Earth on the payroll of an alien meat trust.
  • The Jupiter Theft: The Cygnans originated on a world that orbited Cygnus X-1 before it collapsed into a black hole, and one of the alien species in their zoo comes from 61 Cygni, the Cygnans' last port of call before they reached the Solar System.
  • Known Space: Since most human worlds were originally settled by slower-than-light starships heading out from Earth the slow way, and even the modern faster-than-light drive is fairly slow on an interstellar scale, Known Space is a fairly small area overall — it's usually placed at sixty light-years across its widest direction, with human space accounting for about half of its volume, which compared to the Milky Way's 80,000-light-year diameter is basically nothing. As a result, the vast majority of inhabited systems orbit the familiar stars of the night sky. Among the human colony worlds, Jinx orbits Sirius, We Made It orbits Procyon, Plateau is in the Tau Ceti system, and Home orbits Epsilon Indi. Alien homeworlds include Kzinhome, around 61 Ursae Majoris,
  • The Lathe of Heaven: When the protagonist, whose dreams shape reality, dreams of world peace, he unwittingly creates a race of methane-breathing aliens from Aldebaran which invade the Earth, uniting its nations against this common threat.
  • Lensman: The planets Aldebaran I and II both feature on a number of occasions; Aldebaran II in particular is one of the first planets to be settled by humans, and the site of several of Kimball Kinnison's adventures.
  • Project Hail Mary: Much of the story takes place in the Tau Ceti system. The Eridians are from 40 Eridani A. Epsilon Eridani and Sirius are among the stars afflicted with astrophage.
  • The Stars My Destination: After his apotheosis in a burning cathedral, Gully Foyle teleports to several stars in the Milky Way, including "Aldebaran in Taurus, a monstrous red star of a pair of stars whose sixteen planets wove high-velocity ellipses around their gyrating parents."
  • The Wicked Years: The Ozian equivalent of Sirius (the "Dog Star") is the "Lizard Star".
  • Worldwar: The Race is from the second planet in the Tau Ceti system. They have previously conquered the Rabotevs (from Epsilon Eridani II) and the Hallessi (from Epsilon Indi I).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5: The titular space station orbits a planet in the Epsilon Eridani system.
  • In The Expanse, the Generation Ship LDSS Nauvoo (which later became the OPA's flagship, the Behemoth) was originally built by the Mormon church to colonize a planet in the Tau Ceti system.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: Enterprise:
      • Vulcan and Andoria are located in the 40 Eridani A and Procyon systems, respectively, and Vega has a major Earth colony as early as the 2150s.
      • In "Anomaly", Trip Tucker is offered a medical treatment involving being covered with Aldebaran mud leeches, which would require him to lay prone and stay still to avoid angering them. He declines.
      • In "The Aenar", Regulus is used as a staging ground for a Vulcan invasion of Andoria. Considering how far away Regulus is from Procyon and 40 Eridani, it's likely the writers took some creative license here for the sake of using a familiar name.
      • Rigel X is visited by the crew of the NX-01 in the pilot episode, and again in the series finale. The system is home to the Rigelian species and, according to the Star Trek Expanded Universe, the Orions as well.
      • Phlox's planet of Debobula fought a series of wars with the inhabitants of Antares that ended inconclusively in the 19th century, according to "The Breach".
      • According to a possible future depicted in "Azati Prime", the final battle against the Sphere Builders in the 26th century is fought near the planet Procyon V (presumably close to Andoria).
    • Star Trek: The Original Series:
      • After being thrown off course in "Arena", one of the stars Sulu uses to get a navigational fix is Sirius.
      • The planet killer in "The Doomsday Machine" is on course for the Rigel Colonies, threatening millions of inhabitants.
      • It's mentioned in "Whom Gods Destroy" that Kirk defeated a Romulan warbird at Tau Ceti using a Cochrane deceleration maneuver.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
      • "Encounter at Farpoint", the series pilot, is set on or near the planet Deneb IV.
      • Wolf 359, while uninhabited, is the site of a disastrous battle with the Borg in "The Best of Both Worlds", with 39 Starfleet ships destroyed out of 40.
      • In "Hide and Q", Q takes the form of an Aldebaran serpent, a creature resembling a floating ball of light with three cobra heads sprouting from it.
    • Star Trek: Voyager: Captain Janeway's father drowned on Tau Ceti Prime when she was a teenager, as mentioned in "Coda".

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Eye of Terror was apparently known as Cygnus X-1 at some point in Imperial history, although based on the timelinenote  it's probably not the same system that exists in reality.

    Video Games 
  • Elite Dangerous:
    • Altair and Tau Ceti were among the five founding members of The Federation, the others being Sol, Delta Pavonis, and Beta Hydri. A crisis in Tau Ceti 3 was itself what prompted the formation of the Federation.
    • The Sirius Corporation operates out of the Sirius system, obviously.
    • More generally, the game contains all four hundred billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, including all of the ones listed above (many of which contain terraformed, inhabited planets). Most of them are Randomly Generated Levels by necessity, but the developers have hand-crafted many of them to match real-world astronomical data.
  • Halo: Reach: The titular planet orbits Epsilon Eridani, and unlike its real-life counterpart, the planet is old enough to have some native life forms (until the Covenant glassed it).
  • Mass Effect:
    • Arcturus is the destination point of the Sol Mass Relay. The Systems Alliance built a large space station in the system to serve as their capital, which is destroyed offscreen by the Reapers in Mass Effect 3.
    • Mass Effect: Andromeda is set in the Andromeda galaxy, obviously.
  • Master of Orion: In the fourth game, the Terran Khanate has its capital in the Alpha Ceti system.
  • The Phantasy Star quadrilogy is set in the Algol system. The "Demon Star" is actually the can for an Eldritch Abomination.
  • Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri is pretty self-explanatory: it's set on a planet called Chiron (or "Planet"), orbiting Alpha Centauri A. The aliens in the expansion pack are stated to be from Tau Ceti, which was destroyed by the awakening of another sentient planet.
  • Stellaris has Sirius as a scripted colony site for Earth-based empires, and Procyon and Barnard's Star nearby as well. There's also Deneb, which serves as the capital system for the Commonwealth of Man. Other real stars that may be placed randomly around the galaxy include Betelguese, Aldabaran, and Trappist.
  • Warframe: The Sentients, one of the rarer enemy factions, are an enigmatic and alien race of pseudo-biological robots. They were eventually revealed to have been sent to Tau Ceti by the Orokin to terraform and prepare the system for settlement. Having worked hard for generations to make a home for themselves, and remembering how the Orokin trashed their own system and the horrific abuses they laid on their subjects, the Sentients decided to return to the Origin System to conquer it and scour it of life.

  • Outsider: The six worlds settled by humanity, in addition to Earth, Mars, and two in the greater Alpha Centauri system, count Tau Ceti II and 82 Eridani VI.

    Western Animation