Barnard's Star is a very low-mass star in the constellation Ophiuchus which was discovered by the astronomer E. E. Barnard in 1916. Barnard measured its proper motion to 10.3 arcseconds per year, which remains the largest known proper motion of any star relative to the Sun. Lying at a distance of about 1.8 parsecs or 5.96 light-years, Barnard's Star is the second closest known star system to the Sun and the fourth closest known individual star after the three components of the Alpha Centauri system.
Barnard's Star is a relatively well-studied astronomical object, and has likely received more attention than any other M dwarf star given its proximity and favourable location for observation near the celestial equator. It has also been the subject of some controversy. For a decade from the early 1960s onward, an erroneous discovery of a planet or planets in orbit around Barnard's star was accepted by astronomers. It is also notable as the target for a study on the possibility of rapid, unmanned travel to nearby star systems. Research has focused on stellar characteristics, astrometry, and refining the limits of possible planets.
A binary star is a stellar system consisting of two stars orbiting around their center of mass. For each star, the other is its companion star. Recent research suggests that a large percentage of stars are part of systems with at least two stars. Binary star systems are very important in astrophysics, because observing their mutual orbits allows their mass to be determined. The masses of many single stars can then be determined by extrapolations made from the observation of binaries.
Binary stars are not the same as optical double stars, which appear to be close together as seen from Earth, but may not be bound by gravity. Binary stars can either be distinguished optically (visual binaries) or by indirect techniques, such as spectroscopy. If binaries happen to orbit in a plane containing our line of sight, they will eclipse each other; these are called eclipsing binaries.
The components of binary star systems can exchange mass, bringing their evolution to stages that single stars cannot attain. Examples of binaries are Algol (an eclipsing binary), Sirius, and Cygnus X-1 (of which one member is probably a black hole).
A comet is a small body in the solar system that orbits the Sun and (at least occasionally) exhibits a coma (or atmosphere) and/or a tail — both primarily from the effects of solar radiation upon the comet's nucleus, which itself is a minor body composed of rock, dust, and ices. Comets' orbits are constantly changing: their origins are in the outer solar system, and they have a propensity to be highly affected (or perturbed) by relatively close approaches to the major planets. Some are moved into sungrazing orbits that destroy the comets when they near the Sun, while others are thrown out of the solar system forever.
Most comets are believed to originate in a cloud (the Oort cloud) at large distances from the Sun consisting of debris left over from the condensation of the solar nebula; the outer edges of such nebulae are cool enough that water exists in a solid (rather than gaseous) state. Asteroids originate via a different process, but very old comets which have lost all their volatile materials may come to resemble asteroids.
The word comet came to the English language through Latin cometes. From the Greek word komē, meaning "hair of the head," Aristotle first used the derivation komētēs to depict comets as "stars with hair."
(formally designated C/1995 O1
) was probably the most widely observed comet
of the 20th century, and one of the brightest seen for many decades
. It was visible to the naked eye
for a record 18 months, twice as long as the previous record holder, the Great Comet of 1811
Hale-Bopp was discovered on 23 July 1995 at a very large distance from the Sun, raising expectations that the comet could become very bright when it passed close to the Sun. Although comet brightnesses are very difficult to predict with any degree of accuracy, Hale-Bopp met or exceeded most predictions for its brightness when it passed perihelion on April 1, 1997. The comet was dubbed the Great Comet of 1997.
The passage of Hale-Bopp was notable also for inciting a degree of panic about comets not seen for decades. Rumours that the comet was being followed by an alien spacecraft gained remarkable currency, and inspired a mass suicide among followers of the Heaven's Gate cult.