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Vega is already the fifth-brightest star in the night sky, and the second-brightest north of the celestial equator. But it’s going to get even brighter. It’s moving toward our solar system. And when it’s at its closest, it’ll appear almost four times brighter than it is now.
Vega is an impressive star. It’s more than twice the size and mass of the Sun, and about 40 times brighter. And it’s also a close neighbor — just 25 light-years away. That’s the main reason it looks so bright.
Like all the stars we see in the night sky, though, Vega is on the move. Right now, Vega and the Sun are moving roughly toward each other, at about 30,000 miles per hour. Considering the distance between them, that’s not very fast. Over the millennia, though, the change will add up. Vega will make its closest approach to the solar system in about 265,000 years, when it’ll be about half as far away as it is now.
Cutting the distance in half will make the star look four times brighter than it does now — as bright as Sirius, the night sky’s current leader.
During that interval, Vega will serve as the North Star 10 times. Earth wobbles on its axis, so its north pole points toward different stars at different times. It points to Vega every 26,000 years. The star’s next appearance as the North Star will be in about 12,000 years.
For now, look for Vega high in the sky as night falls, in Lyra. You just can’t miss it.
Script by Damond Benningfield