Finding a nearby star

Welcome, neighbor! Astronomers have discovered a star that may be among the very closest to us. Only 7 percent as heavy as our sun and only 0.3 percent as bright, the star lies an estimated 7.8 light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Aries. By comparison, Barnard’s star resides 6 light-years away, and our nearest neighbor, at a distance of 4 light years, is the system of three stars collectively known as Alpha Centauri.

STELLAR NEIGHBOR. Artist’s drawing of the nearby, newly found red dwarf star (left) in comparison with the sun. W. Feimer/NASA

Bonnard Teegarden of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and his colleagues discovered the star last September during a search for faint, compact objects called white dwarfs. They spied an object that appeared to travel at a relatively fast clip across the sky. From that motion, the astronomers could deduce only that the star–designated as SO25300.5+165258–was either a fast-moving distant star or a sluggish nearby star.

To determine which was the case, the team identified the star in sky images taken at different times of the year by other astronomers. In those images, Teegarden’s team measured the star’s parallax, the apparent shift in the position of the star as Earth circles the sun. The greater the apparent motion, the closer the star. The parallax, as well as other observations, indicates that the star is a red dwarf and lies in the immediate neighborhood, Teegarden and his colleagues report in an upcoming Astrophysical Journal Letters. The researchers caution that it will take improved parallax measurements, which are now under way, to confirm the star’s distance.


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