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 the Luyten's star, Gliese 581, and TRAPPIST-1, which are important, and YZ Ceti due to its proximity to the famous Tau Ceti. Scholz's Star also gets a mention for its potential impact on the Solar System.
Many of these are used as Stock Star Systems since their proximity to Earth makes their names more recognizable.
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 (its systematic name is Alpha Centauri C) but far enough from the two larger members (about 0.21 ly) to be considered a separate star system for space travelers. It takes over half a million years to orbit the other two stars, and at this moment is about 25,000 years away from being on the "far" side of the other two relative to the Sun, at which point they will become the closest stars to the Sun.note 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.
In August 2016 the discovery of an Earth-like worldnote orbiting the star inside the habitable zone was announced., tentatively named Proxima Centauri b.
- Appears in Frontier: Elite II. It's got the only base in the Alpha Centauri system and it's a stupid distance (almost 10,000 AU) from where you jump into.
- It also appears in Elite: Dangerous, and once again it's a ridiculous distance (0.22 Light-Years, which is an ungodly long way if you're using supercruise... which, if you want to get to the star, you have to use since there's no way to target it specifically from the galaxy map for a hyperspace jump) from the jump-in point at Alpha Centauri A.
- In the obscure hex-map wargame Cerberus: The Proxima Centauri Campaign, humanity tries to colonize a world in the Proxima Centauri system — which is already inhabited by aliens from Tau Ceti.
- In the Polish novel The Magellanic Cloud by Stanisław Lem, humans visit the Alpha Centauri system in a slower-than-light starship and discover signs of organic life on a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri. They suspect that life may have been transplanted there from yet another planet.
- In Event Horizon, it's the destination to test out the new gravity drive. Things go horribly wrong.
- In Stellaris, Proxima is part of the Alpha Centauri system and has two planets, an icy Tidally Locked Planet (Proxima Centauri b) and a gas giant orbiting farther out. The former can be terraformed into an ocean world once you unlock the Climate Restoration technology.
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, in 2012 we thought we found one orbiting B. (Sadly, this turned out to be a blip in the data that disappeared with further observation.) 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 a good sign that 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 (turning it from a "W"-shaped constellation into something like "\/\/\"). 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—the equivalent of going from Lisbon to Vladivostok and back taking the most direct routes available. You may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space...
In 2012, it was announced that a planet had been discovered orbiting Alpha Centauri B. It was Earth-sized (about 1.13 times the mass of the Earth) and orbited only a scant 6 million kilometers from B, giving it an orbital period that lasted a mere three-and-a-quarter days. (It would also, most likely, have been tidally locked, so one half of the planet would be a molten sea of lava, and the other a huge icecap.) Sadly, it appears that this announcement was premature.
- Setting of, naturally, Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri. In the universe of the game, two planets are known to orbit Alpha Centauri A: a Mercury-like inner planet named Eurytion, and the outer, Earth-like planet Chiron (known in game simply as "Planet"). Chiron is fittingly named for the greatest of the mythical Centaurs and one of the only two good ones (and is thus a likely name for any actual Earth-like planet in the system), and has two moons (Nessus and Pholus), also named after Centaurs (Pholus being the other good and wise Centaur, Nessus being the most prominent nasty one). Alpha Centauri B, which does not, in the game, appear to have any planets of its own, is known by the locals as "Hercules" (who killed many Centaurs) as it greatly affects Chiron's native life when it enters perihelion.
- In the movie Avatar, Pandora is a moon of the gas giant Polyphemus, which orbits Alpha Centauri A. However, if there really was a giant the size of Polyphemus there, its gravitational tug on Alpha Centauri A should have been detected by now. At best, there may be terrestrial worlds we cannot yet see, but not giants.
- In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, there was a time in the ancient past when men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.
- In Star Trek: The Original Series, the inventor of the warp drive is known as "Zephram Cochrane of Alpha Centauri." Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Enterprise clarify that he was born on Earth, but immigrated to Alpha Centauri once the system was colonized decades later.
- The Franz Joseph Star Fleet Technical Manual, one of the few canonical Trek supplements published in the 1970s, shows a flag for Alpha Centauri that features a centaur.
- In the Starfire universe, Alpha Centauri is the only star system connected to Sol via a warp point, but is itself a major junction with no less than seven other warp points leading to other star systems. (It also has one "closed" warp point, i.e. a warp point that's only detectable from the other end — a fact which the Arachnids use to devastating effect in the Fourth Interstellar War.)
- In The Pentagon War, the 3rd planet orbiting Alpha Centauri A is home to a spacefaring species called (originally enough) Centaurians. The 2nd planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B is also inhabited, but it's a Single-Biome Planet of water, and life there hasn't gotten past the trilobite stage.
- In Larry Niven's Known Space, the human colony planet Wunderland orbits Alpha Centauri A at a distance of 1.32 A.U.. It eventually gets taken over by the Kzinti.
- In Lost in Space, the Robinson family's original destination was Alpha Centauri.
- In the Transformers universe, Cybertron originally orbited Alpha Centauri, but was thrown out of the star system and wandered through interstellar space for some millions of years. It's not clear whether it orbited A or B close in, or whether it orbited the A-B pair from a long distance away.
- In Charles Pellegrino's The Killing Star, the species that nearly wipes out humanity sends their attack from Alpha Centauri. We end up calling them "Alphans."
- In the Polish novel The Magellanic Cloud by Stanisław Lem, humans visit Alpha Centauri in a slower-than-light starship and discover a planet there with an advanced civilization on it.
- In the X-Universe series, Alpha Centauri was selected as the first star to have a human-made Jump Gate towed to it by a slower-than-light drone. However, the gate around Earth kept locking onto a wholly different, alien gate network, which is where the games take place - the "X-Universe". Alpha Centauri IS depicted in the X games, however, as Teladi's Company Pride sector.
- In Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Earth, the heroes visit a planet named "Alpha". It's part of a binary star system — perhaps a trinary with a red dwarf, they can't be sure — that turns out to be only 4 light years away from the star system containing Earth.
- In the backstory of Legend of Galactic Heroes, Alpha Centauri was the destination of humanity's first attempt to expand beyond the Solar System. However, contact with this expedition was lost and with the eventual development of Faster-Than-Light Travel through the invention of the "warp drive", this expedition was forgotten and was never mentioned again.
- Alpha Centauri tends to appear near Sol in Stellaris. All three stars in the system (including Proxima, as mentioned above) are present and have planets, A and B sharing a number of circumbinary planets. In an obvious Shout-Out to, well, just about everything listed above, the system will usually contain at least one Earth-like habitable planet. If you play with the Common Ground or Hegemon origin, said planet will be home to a spacefaring civilization.
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). This is the result of its parabolic trajectory relative to our Sun through the galaxy: at the moment it is rapidly approaching us and will be less than 3.5 light-years away from us in just 10,000 years (about the same distance as Alpha Centauri at about the same time) before it very rapidly recedes - 30,000 years from now the star will be over 10 light-years away from us. 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, 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 2018, a possible planet has been discovered orbiting it with still the possibility of a second. If said planet, a "Super Earth", exists at all it's for what has been noted above most likely a Neptune-like world that even if it's placed at roughly the Sun-Mercury distance would have frigid Jupiter/Saturn-like temperatures due to the feeble light emitted by the Barnard's star.
In The '70s, 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.
- The New England College Town Planet Barnard's World in the Hyperion Cantos orbits Barnard's Star. Sol and Rachel Weintraub are from here.
- Planet Ymir, the first level in Terminal Velocity (1995), orbits Barnard's Star.
- Although not featured in the games themselves, Barnard's Star is located on the galactic map that came with Wing Commander Prophecy. It was, however, renamed to "Bernard's Star", in honor of Jason Bernard (Captain Eisen in WC3 and WC4) who had passed away shortly after 4's completion.
- In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Barnard's Star is the next destination of the Vogon fleet after they're done with Earth.
- In the National Geographic Channel Speculative Documentary Evacuate Earth, a planet orbiting Barnard's Star becomes humanity's new homeworld after Earth and the solar system are destroyed by the Gravity Screw of a passing neutron star.
- Barnard's Star tends to appear near Sol in Stellaris. Occasionally habitable planets will be orbiting it; if you play with the Common Ground or Hegemon origin, said habitable planet will be home to a spacefaring civilization.
Luhman 16 (~6.59 ly)A pair of brown dwarfs, located closer to Sun than any other brown dwarves (as of May 2014). They are the nearest stellar neighbors to our nearest stellar neighbors, the Alpha Centauri system, at only 3.6 light-years away. They have temperature of 1350K and 1210K.
WISE 08550714 (7.5 ly)A brown dwarf who not only has the third-highest proper motion of all observed stars (behind the aforementioned Barnard's Star and a more-distant Kapteyn's Star), but is the coldest star currently known (observational estimates puts its maximum temperature at a mere 260 K/−13 °C/8 °F, colder than freezing water!)
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.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Best of Both Worlds," served as the location for the Battle of Wolf 359, in which most of the Federation Starfleet's forces were destroyed in a futile attempt to stop a Borg cube.
- The pilot episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine starts with a flashback to the Battle of Wolf 359.
- Wolf 359 appears by its Variable Star designation ("CN Leonis") in The Pentagon War. (There, CN Leonis II is a world colonized by aliens from Alpha Centauri, who declared independence from their homeworld.)
- There was an episode of The Outer Limits titled "Wolf 359".
- The Moon Dagger, the third level in Terminal Velocity (1995), orbits Wolf 359.
- Wolf 359 is also the destination of the first Node jumps conducted by humans in Sword of the Stars, seeing as that's the nearest star to have a node connection to Sol.
- In EV Nova the Federation Bureau of Internal Investigation is headquartered there on the planet New England.
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.note Lalande 21185 may or may not have planets — probably not.
- In Gregory Benford's Across the Sea of Suns, Lalande 21185 appears by its Durchmusterung catalog designation "BD +36°2147". It was home to the synchronously-rotating planet Isis, on which lived aliens that were biological radio telescopes.
- The Lalandian system was the setting of the science fiction campaign of Civilization II: Test of Time, taking advantage of a then-recent discovery of two exoplanetsnote , at the time the closest ones to Earth, in orbit around the star. One of those two exoplanets, the gas giant Nona, features in the game, alongside a rocky inner planet called Naumachia, and the starting planet, an Earth-like planet called Funestis. According to the backstory, the Humans had been sending a second wave of colony ships to Alpha Centauri following the successful first wave, taking a slightly different route due to stellar drift, and encountering some anomaly which left them stranded on Funestisnote . At the exact same time, an unnamed alien race also sending a colony ship wound up stranded in the Lalande system as well, in what the manual aptly dubs "a coincidence so unlikely that it's highly suspicious".
Sirius aka the Dog Star (8.6 ly)
A binary system, with a white main star (A0V) and a white dwarf secondary.note 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 SaturnSun distance, then winding up farther away at apastron than the NeptuneSun 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.
- In Doctor Who, Sirius becomes an independent dominion of the First Human Empire and is the location of Androzani Major and Minor.
- V (1983) has the visitors come from Sirius.
- Home to the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
- In Dogsbody several characters are Sentient Stars. The protagonist is the main star of the Sirius system, and his "Companion", the secondary star, is also an important character.
- In The Pentagon War, Sirius A IV is a colony world that declared independence from Sol, and now calls itself "America".
- In Voices of a Distant Star Sirius A has a habitable planet, Agharta. The deciding battle takes place nearby.
- In the backstory of Legend of Galactic Heroes, Sirius hosts the most populous and developed of the colony worlds settled by space-faring humans and their descendants. They would also in turn lead an ultimately successful rebellion against the tyranny of Earth.
- Sirius tends to appear near Sol in Stellaris. Habitable planets orbit its two stars with surprising regularity, despite the unlikeliness of such an occurrence in Real Life.
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:
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.
- Was the site of the first Phased Antimatter Bomb test in The Pentagon War.
- In Larry Niven's A Gift From Earth, a gas envelope around this pair of stars was used by unmanned Ramscoops to brake and/or collect fuel en route between Sol and Tau Ceti.
WISE 1541-2250 (~18.6 ly)A brown dwarf with a temperature of about 350 K (about the same as a hot cup of coffee).
When first discovered, astronomers first thought this object was only a little over 9 light-years from the sun. More accurate parallax measurements showed it to be roughly twice as far away as this initial figure, however.
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.
- Frontier: Elite II has Ross 154 as a starting point.
Ross 248 aka HH Andromedae (10.33 ly)
Yes, yet another red dwarf that flares, but this one happens to be moving through the galaxy on a trajectory that, in about 30,000 years, will bring it closer to the Sun than Alpha Centauri note , reaching a minimum distance of just over 3 light-years before it recedes again.
Epsilon Eridani (aka Ran, 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.
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. One gas giant is suspected, and it even has a proper name: Ægir.note
- Babylon 5 can be found here.
- Part of the Solarian League in the Honor Harrington novels, and the site of a horrific slaughter via Colony Drop that prompted the creation of the Eridani Edict.
- Yellowstone and its orbiting Glitter Band, both important colonies in Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space universe, are here.
- In the Halo universe, the planet Reach is located here.
- In Dragon's Egg, the Cheela inscribed the Crypto-Key to unlock Faster-Than-Light travel "On a pyramid on the second moon of the third planet orbiting Epsilon Eridani".
- In To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, Epsilon Eridani hosts the planet Eidolon, a Hungry Jungle Death World.
Ross 128 (10.9 ly)
Yet another red dwarf flare star. (Variable star designation: FL Virginis.). Due to stellar drift, in about 80,000 years, it will become the closest star to our Sun, though partly as the result of Alpha and Proxima Centauri moving away from us; it will still be over six light-years away, farther than Barnard's Star is right now. Ross 128 has an Earth-like planet, Ross 128 b, in the habitable zone considered one of the best candidates to be suitable for life as we know it. However very little more than its mass and orbit are known.
- In Gregory Benford's Across the Sea of Suns, Ross 128 was home to a gas giant planet, around which orbited a moon called Pocks that housed amphibious aliens.
- In FreeSpace, The first point of contact between the Terrans and the Shivans takes place in this system.
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.)
- In Elite Dangerous, four Earthlike planets — three of which have been terraformed — orbit Procyon B.
- In Larry Niven's Known Space, Procyon A is home to the planet We Made It.
- In the Justice League comics, Manhunters (the robots built by the Guardians, not the Martian Manhunter) come from the planet Orinda in the Procyon system.
- The Andorians in Star Trek hail from a moon of a gas giant named Procyon VIII.
- Treasure Planet mentions the Procyon Armada. There was a video game based on the movie named Treasure Planet: Battle at Procyon which prominently features the Procyon Empire — but, oddly, there's no actual battle at Procyon.
- In Star Control, the system houses the home planet of the local Silicon-Based Life, the Chenjesu.
- Procyon tends to appear near Sol in Stellaris. Habitable planets orbit the two stars occasionally, although less often than they do Alpha Centauri or Sirius.
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.
- The only unsurveyed bit of the Federation near Earth in Blake's 7- the locals are hostile and released a virus on base one time.
- And speaking of The Federation, 61 Cygni is also home to the Tellarites in Star Trek.
- In Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series, they've forgotten which world humans originally came from. 61 Cygni is suggested as a possible site for the origin of humanity.
- Planet Crythania, the second level of Terminal Velocity (1995), orbits 61 Cygni.
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. Most notably, the brightest one has at least two planets orbiting it: a "Super-Earth" too close to have liquid water on its surface and a gas giant at the same distance Jupiter is of the Sun in our Solar System (and given the faintness of Groombridge 34 A, as cold as Neptune), this being the closest known multi-planetary system to the Sun.
- Was the site of at least one battle in Space: Above and Beyond. It wasn't portrayed as a binary star system in that series, though.
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 1500 AU); the two brown dwarfs themselves orbit each other fairly close (2.1 AU). The primary might also be orbited by a Jupiter+ sized planet at 6.5 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.
- In the original ''Star Trek episode "And The Children Shall Lead", this system is the home of Gorgan, an evil Energy Being.
- In Larry Niven's Known Space novels, the planet Home is located here.
- In Halo, Harvest - a world about a third the size of Earth, used as an agricultural world until the Covenant reduced it to a burnt-out husk - is located in this system.
Tau Ceti (11.9 ly)
The closest solitary Sun-like star to us, so appears a lot in fiction. 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 poor in heavy elements.
Four "super-earth" sized planets have been confirmed to orbit this star. Two of them are too close for liquid water to exist on their surfaces, and one of them is too far away. The planet in between, Tau Ceti e, is a 4-earth-mass world that might be at the right distance for liquid water to exist; but more likley it's a tad too close and would be more like Venus. 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). In addition to it, Tau Ceti has a belt of asteroids and comets similar to the Kuiper belt of our Solar System, but ten times more massive and its inner border being much closer to the star (10 AU, the Sun-Saturn distance) than its Sun analogue and it has been suggested its presence means the planets of Tau Ceti would suffer more asteroidal impacts than Earth, putting further doubts on the possibility of life there.
- The system is where System Shock 2 takes place.
- The eponymous Marathon is orbiting this planet.
- In Foundation and Earth, the heroes visit the planet Aurora, which was the first of the Spacer worlds. At the time of their visit, Aurora was completely devoid of human life. As established in Asimov'e earlier Robot stories, Aurora orbits Tau Ceti.
- In Larry Niven's Known Space, Tau Ceti is home to Plateau, a human colony world where any crime is punishable by having your organs harvested.
- In the obscure hex-map wargame Cerberus: The Proxima Centauri Campaign, humanity tries to colonize a world in the Proxima Centauri system — which is already inhabited by aliens from Tau Ceti.
- In Barbarella, SoGo (the City of Night) is on a planet orbiting Tau Ceti.
- In Earth: Final Conflict, the Jaridians have their home base at Tau Ceti.
- Ogros and Zygor are in the Tau Ceti system, in Doctor Who.
- In Robert A. Heinlein's Time for the Stars, the slower-than-light starship Lewis and Clark visits the Tau Ceti star system and discovers an Earthlike planet there.
- The story of Bodacious Space Pirates is heavily implied, if not stated, to be taking place in Tau Ceti.
- The capital of the Hegemony of Man in Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos is the Ecumenopolis of Tau Ceti Center (TC2 in colloquial speech).
- The homeworld of the Lizards in Harry Turtledove's Worldwar saga orbits Tau Ceti.
- While it doesn't take place there, tech quotes in Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri seem to imply that something cataclysmic occurred there, and the Manifold Caretakers are trying to keep it from happening again on Chiron.
Luyten's Star (12.4 ly)An (of course) red dwarf that it's at just 1.2 light-years away from Procyon, close enough to perturb hypothetical Oort clouds that both stars could have sending comets to those regions nearby to them and for the latter to give a light show from the former, shining as bright as Venus from Earth. This star seems to be a quiet one not prone to flares and it's conspicuous as it has four planets orbiting it, most notably a Super-Earth on the habitable zone that ranks among the closest and best candidate planets to support life as we know it —unfortunately as per Ross 128 we know little more of it than its orbit, minimum mass, and the stellar flux it receives. The other three planets are a planet just slightly more massive than Earth but too close for the star to be habitable and two Super-Earths much farther away.
YZ Ceti (12.6 ly)Yet another red dwarf that does not flare (just kidding, it does). It's of special interest as it's at just 1.6 light-years of Tau Ceti, close enough to perturb a hypothetical Oort cloud of the latter sending comets to the innermost regions of its planetary system and vice-versa, and because it has two planets in orbit with data suggesting the presence of one, maybe two, more. However while those planets are very similar in mass to Earth, they are too close to YZ Ceti to have liquid water on their surfaces and the flare activity of the star is likely to have stripped away their atmospheres.
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). A planet was discovered in 2018 orbiting its main star, appropiately nicknamed "Vulcan". However unlike its fictional counterpart it's (yet another) Super Earth that receives even more stellar flux than Mercury in the Sol System, thus even if it was a rocky planet would be unhabitable for life as we know it.
- In Star Trek, Spock's homeworld of Vulcan orbits 40 Eridani A, as does Delta Vega and at least one gas giant. Gene Roddenberry considered placing Vulcan in the Epsilon Eridani system instead, but decided against it because that star was too young to have habitable planets yet.
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" (Al-Nisr al-Ṭā'ir; the shortening makes it more simply "the flying one" or "the bird"—same word in Arabic). 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.
- Setting of Forbidden Planet.
Alsafi aka Sigma Draconis (18.8 ly)
A class G9 V main sequence star in the constellation Draco. "Alsafi" is an Arabic word for a type of tripod in an open-air kitchen, and refers to the grouping of Sigma Draconis, Tau Draconis, and Upsilon Draconis.
- Setting of the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Spock's Brain", which depicts the system as having nine planets total, three of which are inhabited by sentient beings - one with a technology level equivalent to Earth in the year 1485, one with a technology level equivalent to Earth in the year 2030, without elaborating what that entails (although they don't seem able to build interstellar craft), and one pre-industrial, glaciated planet which turned out to be After the End.
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.
- Setting of the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Terra Nova".
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. Has two and likely at least three planets orbiting it, all of them inside the habitable zone and thus too hot to contain Earth-like life.
- In Poul Anderson's Orbit Unlimited, 82 Eridani was home to the (barely) habitable world Rustum. It was colonized by refugees for whom Earth had grown too authoritarian.
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.
- Caladan in Dune is stated to orbit Delta Pavonis.
- The mystery planet Resurgam and the neutron star Hades are in the Delta Pavonis system in Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space.
- In the Transformers universe, Delta Pavonis IV is home to humanoid cats who, thanks to being hypnotized by the Quintessons, attack a neighboring planet of humanoid dogs.
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.
For a time was 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, if they existed at all (see below) would be the most interesting — at 5.6 and 3.1 Earth masses respectively, they'd be 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).
Sadly, better measurements showed two of those planets (Gliese 581 g and Gliese 581 f) are unlikely to exist and even the existence of Gliese 581 d is dubious, leaving as sure to exist Gliese 581 b, Gliese 581 c, and Gliese 581 e -the three considered too hot to be habitable, at least by life as we know it.
Scholz's Star (22 ly)
Also known formally as WISE J072003.20−084651.2, it is a binary star system consisting of an M9 red dwarf and a T5 brown dwarf. It is a fairly late discovery, being discovered by Ralf-Dieter Scholz in 2013.
While the system itself is of not much interest, what is notable of Scholz's Star is its trajectory. Scientists have calculated that around 70,000 years ago, the pair passed by the Solar System at a distance of 120,000 AU at closest approachnote , which not only made it the closest star system at the time, but was close enough to disrupt the Oort Cloud and send comets spiraling inwardnote . It's estimated that these perturbed comets will take roughly 2 million years to reach the inner parts of the Solar System, which could be bad news for Earth as it may enter another bombardment period not seen since the Late Heavy Bombardment nearly 4 billion years ago.
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.
- In Stellvia of the Universe, a star "Hydrus Beta" goes supernova. It is described very similar to Beta Hydri, although the real star is not nearly massive enough to go supernova—supernova progenitor stars are generally class B or O when on the main sequence, while this one is G or F.
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.
- Was the location of the alien radio transmitter and part of the wormhole network in Contact, both book and film.
- In Omega Men and other DC comics, the debris disk is really the "Ring of Life," a vast belt containing at least twenty-three Earth-like worlds (including Tamaran).
- In the Star Trek universe, Vega IX hosts a sizable Earth colony as early as the 2150s.
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.
- Fomalhaut is the closest star to one of the collapsars used for Faster-Than-Light Travel in The Forever War.
- In Children of Dune, when Leto is in a spice trance, he sees visions of Fomalhaut's planetary system.
- Fomalhaut is the site of a major battle in Horace Glennon-Height's Rebellion in the Hyperion Cantos.
- Paul McAuley's novel In the Mouth of the Whale takes place among the planetoids of Fomalhaut's debris disc, and around a large gas giant in the system, all areas settled by conflicting "subclades" of transhumans.
- One of Cthulhu Mythos' Elder God, Cthuga, resides here.
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.
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.
- Many mentions in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In particular, Arcturan Mega-Gin is a major ingredient in a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. Presumably it's carried aboard Arcturan Mega-Freighters. Also home to a variety of deadly megafauna, including the Arcturan Mega-Donkey, Mega-Leech, Mega-Voidwhale, Mega-Gnat, Mega-Elephant, Mega-Puppy and Mega-Camel.
- The headquarters for the human Systems Alliance in Mass Effect is a large space station orbiting Arcturus.
- According to Aliens, the gender of the people who live there doesn't have an impact on sexual preference for marines.
- In Supergirl (2015) the planet Maaldoria, center of the galactic slave trade, orbits Acturus. This means that Kryptonians and Daxamites have no powers there as Arcturus is a red sun.
TRAPPIST-1 (39.5 ly)
An ultra-cool red dwarf star that's barely bigger than Jupiter and has high metallicity, which is very unusual for stars of this type because they practically border the line between brown dwarfs and Hydrogen-fusing stars, which are thought to contain no metals at all. Its lifespan is expected to last up to 5 trillion years, meaning that it will be around long after all of the stellar material for star formation has been used up, and will be among the last shining stars in the Universe.
This star is notable because of the discovery of seven exoplanets around it in February 2017note , which are all earth-like in size and properties and contains one of the best chances of searching for extraterrestrial life. Three of the seven planets lie within range of the star's habitable zone, making habitability and colonization very likely. It should also be noted that all of the seven planets orbit the star closer than Mercury does to our Sun, and the planets' orbits are so close to each other that their surfaces would be clearly visible in the sky on one of the planets instead of just a small dot of reflected light, similar to our Moon in the sky. If placed in our own Solar System, the entire TRAPPIST-1 system would occupy the space between the Sun and Mercury, and still have room to spare for more planets.
Unfortunately, the hype from February 2017 seems to have died down as the reality and science started to set in. Like with all red dwarf stars, TRAPPIST-1 is a flare star, and with it, brings many of the usual complications: tidally-locked planets being bombarded with flare radiation, likely stripping them of their atmospheres and water and thus, making the chances of life unlikely. And in addition to that, despite them being water-rich, at the very least the two innermost planets are thought to have hellish conditions next to which Venus is a vacation spot and the two outermost ones are likely too cold to have liquid water on their surfaces, with the fourth planet in distance being the most Earth-like in size and mass and the one that has more hopes of being habitable. It is still a likely place for possible colonization in the future.
- SCP Foundation: One of the planets affected by SCP-3426 is TRAPPIST-1f, an Earth-like planet covered in a thick envelope of water vapor. It was home to a civilization very similar to humanity, right down to having their own analogue of the Foundation, but eventually fell prey to a Reality Is Out to Lunch scenario and was wiped out.
- In Stellaris, this system (simply called "Trappist") is one of a handful of real-life stars forcibly-spawned somewhere in the galaxy. It contains three small to medium-sized habitable worlds of various biomes - an exceptionally large number that's unlikely to be found anywhere else in the galaxy.
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.
- In the first Alien movie, the moon where they encounter the xenomorph orbits a gas giant that orbits Zeta2 Reticuli.
- The homeworld of the Chigs in Space: Above and Beyond orbits one of these two stars.
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. 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.
- The alien civilization responsible for the events of All You Need is Kill originates from a planet around one of these stars.
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.
Mu Arae (49.8 ly)
This G3 star, which is close to the end of its main-sequence lifespan, is one of the first stars to be assigned new proper names by the IAU: it is also known as Cervantes, after the famous Spanish writer. Its planets, of which it has four confirmed, are named after Cervantes' characters: Quixote, Dulcinea, Rocinante and Sancho. They are all gas giants, Dulcinea being the smallest one (a "hot Neptune") and Sancho the largest (a superjovian similar to our own Jupiter). Terrestrial planets, or terrestrial gas giant moons, are likely. The gas giant Quixote (a superjovian as well) sits in the habitable zone, so it would be a good place to find a big habitable moon.
A couple of useful external links
- Sol Station has large amounts of data on individual stars, updated frequently.
- The Internet Stellar Database hasn't been updated in a while, but it does allow you to see which stars are within X number of light-years of any given star, and how far they are apart.
- The Exoplanet Data Explorer is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.