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Have you ever looked up into the night sky and witnessed a star “twinkling”? This is a well-known phenomenon that most of us have seen, but are these stars actually moving? After all, we can see the same constellations that ancient civilizations once did, so are they in a fixed position?
The simple answer to this question is that stars do in fact move! However, it’s difficult for us to see them in action. If you want to know more, keep reading—we’ll tell you how stars move and how it works.
In space, all objects, including stars, are constantly moving at a striking speed. This is because every celestial body is orbiting a larger system, just like we are orbiting the Sun. Stars are orbiting around their respective galaxy, as our Solar System does with the Milky Way.
The orbit of a star is caused by gravity, as its mass is being pulled by a larger body with a stronger gravitational force. This is the exact same force that causes the Moon to orbit Earth. Stars move in a deliberate fashion based on this gravitational pull rather than roaming around in space aimlessly. Different stars will move at different paces, as the correlation of their mass to their distance to the center of the galaxy affects their top speed. Stars closer to the center of a galaxy move much faster than those farther away.
Additionally, similar to planets, moons, or other space objects, stars also rotate continuously.
When we stargaze for hours on end, we eventually see the stars “move” to a different spot in the sky. However, this action is a bit of an illusion, as the stars themselves are not moving that far during such a short time period. Instead, the Earth’s rotation is responsible for what seems like space moving quickly across our field of view.
If you’ve ever seen one of those awe-inspiring timelapse videos of the Milky Way, it may seem as if the sky is moving across the horizon. Again, this is all but a misconception. In reality, the most accurate way to display the sky at night is to capture photos using a star tracker, which counters the Earth’s rotation.
Other than the Sun, the next-closest star to Earth is Proxima Centauri. Unfortunately, it’s over 40 trillion miles away, so it would take a while to get there. Proxima Centauri also moves around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, but it has quite a slow rotation speed. In fact, it takes 83 days for Proxima to fully rotate. This might be due to the other stars that neighbor it in the Alpha Centauri system.
Gaining knowledge about the solar system and the stars will not only make you a more in-tune stargazer, but it will also make you more appreciative of what you see in the night sky. Even if you do not have a telescope, you can still take this new information to the next quiz night with your acquaintances!
Featured Image Credit: Javier Esteban, Unsplash
Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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