All of the stars in the night sky are orbiting the center of the Milky Way Galaxy at a speedy clip. But most of the stars are so far away that even at their high speeds, we don’t see them change position — they don’t appear to move relative to the other stars.
One exception is Barnard’s Star. During the span of a human lifetime, it moves by about a quarter of a degree — half the size of the Moon in our sky. That makes it the speed demon of the night sky — it moves faster than any other star. That’s because Barnard’s Star is just six light-years away. Only the stars of Alpha Centauri are closer.
Barnard’s Star is named for Edward Emerson Barnard, who measured its blazing speed a century ago.
The star’s proximity and speed are its main talking points. It’s much smaller and lighter than the Sun, and much, much fainter — just a few hundredths of a percent of the Sun’s brilliance. That’s why it wasn’t discovered until 1888. And even then, it was recorded on a photograph that wasn’t analyzed for years.
Astronomers have been hunting for planets around the star for decades. And some have reported finding them. But none of the claims has stood up, so Barnard’s Star remains planetless.
Barnard’s Star is in Ophiuchus, the serpent bearer, which is in the east and southeast at nightfall. Barnard’s Star is well below the serpent bearer’s brightest star, Rasalhague. But it’s much too faint to see without a big telescope.
Script by Damond Benningfield