February 27, 2020

Astronomy Video of the Week: Chasing Barnardís Star

Speedy Barnard’s Star. Click here for the animation.

Credit: The Virtual Telescope Project

Double wow.

When it comes to stellar motion, the pattern of constellations you see tonite will look pretty much the same on the day that you die as they appeared on the day you were born. Sure, weíre all whizzing around the core of the Milky Way Galaxy with our stellar neighbors, but the distances between the stars is so vast, that this motion (known as apparent or proper motion) is tiny from year to year.

One star that goes against this trend is Barnardís Star. Located six light years distant in the constellation Ophiuchus, this +9.5 magnitude red dwarf has the highest proper motion of any star in the sky, at 10.3Ē per year. That means in an average 72 year human life span, Barnardís Star will have shifted a little over 12í, just under half the diameter of a Full Moon.

Barnard’s Star, truckin’ across the sky.

Image credit: Rick Johnson

This week, we thought weíd feature an amazing project that highlights this motion. Amateur astronomer Rick Johnson has been taking one image a year of Barnardís Star (!) a year for the last nine years, and the motion of the fast moving star is readily apparent.

This is an amazing feat of perseverance. The good folks over at the Virtual Telescope project also created a two-frame animation demonstrating the same effect. (see the intro pic)

Barnardís Star is actually getting closer to our solar system, until it passes a minimum of under four light years distant 8,000 years from now, when itíll appear to move 26Ē per year. Barnardís Star gained notoriety in the mid-20th century, when astronomer Peter van de Kamp claimed to have detected a wobble in the starís apparent path in the sky due to an unseen exoplanet. Itís ironic that, in the modern era of 1,952 known exoplanets and counting, Barnardís Star has thus far remained planet-less.

This animation is also a fine example of long term projects that exemplify a key astronomical concept. Other stars, such as Kapteynís Star or Piazziís Flying Star 61 Cygni would also serve as fine targets for such a long term photographic essay. Or how about double stars with orbit periods you could expect to live through, such as Sirius or Porrima? †Hey, Iím just throwing those challenges out thereÖ


  1. [...] means to provoke out a correct suit of circuitously quick movers such as 61 Cygni, Kapteyn’s or even Barnard’s Star, or a orbits of double stars.  Or how about capturing lunar impacts on a dim prong of a Moon? It [...]

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