Welcome to You Ask Andy

Mike Myers, age 14, of Gladstone, Ore 

 How many light years away is the nearest star?

A light year, of course, is the distance traveled by a beam of light in one earth‑year, The speed of light is about 186,000 miles a second, which makes the distance of a fight year equal to about six million  , million miles  That is figure six, followed by 12 zeroes  The sun is a star, but it is only 92 million miles away from us  Its light distance is merely eight minutes, the time it takes for its light to reach us  All the other stars we see are years away, in terms of light  

North of the equator, the nearest star we see is Sirius, the Dog Star  This brilliant carbuncle follows the dazzling constellation of Orion over our winter skies  It is the most brilliant star seen from anywhere on  earth  Sirius is at a distance of 8  6 light years, or about 50 million, million miles  When we look at the Dog Star, we are seeing light which set out towards us more than eight and a half years ago 

In the skies above the southern hemisphere, there are three stars at a distance of about 4,4 light years  The three are part of a starry unit, orbiting about each other  Two of them era bright enough and close enough together to be seen as a single star of first magnitude  We call them a double star  The fact that they are two stars can be detected only through a telescope  This double star is Alpha Centauri, the star of first importance in the constellation Centaur near the famous Southern Cross 

The third member of this starry unit is too dim for our eyes to see at all  The telescope shows it to be a small red dwarf star at an immense distance from the two bright stars  Slowly, slowly it revolves in a vast orbit around them 

Alpha Centaurs, our nearest stellar neighbor, is a multiple star system  At the present time, the star nearest to our Solar System is the red dwarf revolving around the‑two bright central stars  For this reason, the little dwarf has been named Proxima, meaning near one  As it revolves, its path will someday take it on the far side of its bright sisters, and Proxima will no longer be the star nearest to us.

The distance of Proxima is about 4 1/4 light years or roughly 25 million, million miles  The light which reaches the telescope from this nearest star set out to keep its rendezvous with earth four and a quarter years agog Proxima cannot be seen without a telescope, but its sisters are seen as a single bright star in the southern skies  This double star also can be seen as far north of the equator as Florida and parts of Texas 


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