By Jim Dale

I thought you would like to go on a bit of an outing....
To the park? "Nup!"
To the Pictures? "Nup!"
Let's go to the closest Star systems, "Yep!"
To avoid the boring in the extreme 200,000 year journey necessary to get to anywhere really interesting we will travel only within 13 Light years of Earth. We will have to use a Hyper Relativistic Cranial Compression Drive. So sit in that comfy chair and press the green button on the left....
No not that one! "ZZZZIIIPPPppp----"*******

Heading into Canis Major (that's Orion's Big Dog), we come across our first interesting star system. Sirius -a is one of the brightest stars in the sky of Earth. It was thought to be at one time the closest star to our Sun, because of how bright it is (8.6 Light years). Sirius a is what is called an A1 type main sequence star and, besides being big, is extremely hot. The end of Sirius will be spectacular, and soon, and will probably be seen in our skies on Earth during the day when it goes off.

Sirius-a has a little friend in Sirius -b which is a little smaller than our Sun but because Sirius-a is so large it is damn hard to see. If there are any planets in the system they might be found around Sirius -b. If the planet were exactly like the Earth (in size and distance) and around Sirius -b, it would be a hell of a place to live. You would be waiting for the season when Sirius -b would hopefully cover Sirius -a and give you a nice cool day and a real night, if it cooled down at all. If you look in the opposite direction to Earth, you will see Orion as you know it.

The next place to go is Procyon -a & -b. At 11.4 Light years out from the sun, its about as far out as we are going to go this side without getting too far away from Earth to be home in time for dinner. Procyon -A is about twice the size of the Sun and -B is over half the mass but smaller. Not as hot as Sirius, Procyon is about the second brightest thing in our sky. But out here an Earth type planet will still get quite a blast every once in a while.

Not too far from Procyon and a bit to the north relative to Earth is G51-15 (at 11.7 Light years), a cold old star that is worth a fly by. A lot smaller than the sun, even a close planet would probably be an ice block. Next, but a bit of a trip back in, is Wolf 359 at 7.7 light years, again another old, cold star. Both G51-15 and Wolf 359 are too dim to be seen at home.

Going past Ross 128 (9.4 Light years) and heading north, we pass Lalande 21185 (10.9 Light years) to the Left and on our right, after a bit further on, is Ross 248 (10.4 Light years) and up here, to our left, is another cold place, Luyten 789-6 (11.2 light years) . This is the cold, dark and spread-out part of the neighbourhood. If we had travelled from Melbourne, we would be going past Dimboola now and there is nothing much after that.

Now, after turning right and still a long way out, moving along the boring part of the trip we find Epsilon 2398 (11.6 Light years) and then 61 Cygni at 11.1 light years. Going south near to the Earth's equator is the caravan park of these parts, Barnards Star (6 light years). Barnards Star is the fastest known star with the highest proper motion (the speed that stars move relative to each other). We are still in the cold dark region but things are getting better.

Going south and heading out again we go past Ross 154 (9.4 Light years). Then out to Groombridge 34 (11.2 Light years) and still further to Lacaille 9352 (11.7 Light years). Then Epsilon Indi (11.2 Light-years). Epsilon Indi is just under the size of the sun, so if it were the Sun the Earth would have a permanent Ice Age and Venus would be a nice place to live. If you look towards home you would have a star in the way.

With home on our right and heading north again we pass Luyten 726-8 (11.2 Light years) and travel on to Tau Ceti at 11.8 Light years from the our Earth and its Sun. The Sun is now just a small speck in the sky of the cool inner planets of Tau Ceti, with a much brighter star to the right of it. Ahead of us is Sirius again and just to the left is Epsilon Eridani at 10.9 light years out. Epsilon Eridani is just another cold place to visit at 3/4 the size of the Sun.

Wait on! ......
What is that small star we can see to the right of the sun?
Just like a late night trip home after a holiday outing and having those headlights shining at you in the distance. We see them getting brighter and brighter and start to split apart into two stars. Its Alpha Centuri -A & -B at 4.3 Light years away from home-base and just the place to drop in and have a quick cuppa on the way home. A is about the same size as the Sun and B a bit smaller, this gives you a pleasant, very long day once a year.

Just right for those long walks down the long beaches. On a dark night in winter, you will see Sirius set with Orion as you would here on Earth and the Crux (Southern Cross) just as it is at home. And there, south of Sirius, is home. As bright as Alpha Centuri is to us on Earth. This is now just the journey from the outer suburbs. With the home lights shining ahead and the familiar suburbs passing by and we whiz past Proxima Cinturi now at 4.2 light years from home.

Back home, while having dinner, we can talk about our little outing to all the neighbouring Star Systems within 13 Light years of Earth and our Sun. We can see we live in a quiet little place on the Orion Spur of the Sagittarius arm of our Galaxy. Just as well, we could be living in the 'New York City' of space, with Super Nova's going off all the time and huge, smoggy gas clouds cutting out the Sun. No, I think we are very lucky indeed. .

Astronomy, January 1987.
Crystal, Star guide Program


The Hyades Animated Tour

The Proper Motion of Stars Animation


A Traveller's Guide to the Universe

History Of Astronomy

Astronomy Links

Email Starman Jim
with your Questions TRAVELLERS TALES