Alpha Centauri


Alpha Centauri (also known as Rigil Kent or Toliman) is the brightest star in the southern constellation of Centaurus and the third brightest star in the night sky from Earth. The Alpha Centauri system is located 1.34 parsecs or 4.37 light years from Earth’s Sun, making it the closest star system to our home Solar System. Although it appears to the unaided eye as a single object, Alpha Centauri is actually a binary star system (designated Alpha Centauri AB) whose combined visual magnitude of −0.27 makes it the third brightest star (other than the Sun) seen from Earth after the −1.46 magnitude Sirius and the −0.72 magnitude Canopus.

Its component stars are named Alpha Centauri A, with 110% of the mass and 151.9% the luminosity of the Sun, and Alpha Centauri B, at 90.7% of the Sun’s mass and 44.5% of its luminosity. During the pair’s 79.91-year orbit about a common center, the distance between them varies from about that between Pluto and the Sun to that between Saturn and the Sun.

A third star, known as Proxima Centauri, Proxima, or Alpha Centauri C, is probably gravitationally associated with Alpha Centauri AB. Proxima is at the slightly smaller distance of 1.29 parsecs or 4.24 light years from the Sun, making it the closest star to the Sun even though it is not visible to the naked eye. The separation of Proxima from Alpha Centauri AB is about 0.06 parsecs, 0.2 light years or 13,000 astronomical units (AU); equivalent to 400 times the size of Neptune’s orbit.

The system may also contains one planet discovered before the Early Space Era, the Earth-sized Alpha Centauri Bb, which was the closest known exoplanet to Earth. The planet has a mass at least 13% more than Earth’s and orbits Alpha Centauri B with a period of 3.236 days. Orbiting at a distance of 6 million kilometers from the star, 4% of the distance of the Earth to the Sun and a tenth of the distance between Mercury and the Sun, the planet has an estimated surface temperature of 1500 K (roughly 1200 °C), too hot to be habitable. It is commonly referred to as a ‘lava planet’ due to it’s mostly molten surface.

Three other large rocky planets exist in this system, though none are particularly important, and a single wide asteroid belt. The Largest world is roughly twice the size of Earth and the second closest to the stars in the system, though it is much like Mars. The next farthest planet is a coreless planet made up of massive amounts of iron oxides (‘rust’) with no metallic core. The farthest planet is a rocky core ice world like a larger pluto.

Alpha Centauri

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