star: Location and Motion of Stars

The universe contains billions of galaxies, and each galaxy contains billions of stars. The stars visible to the unaided eye are all in our own galaxy, the Milky Way. Stars are not spread uniformly through a galaxy. They are frequently bunched together in star clusters of as many as 100,000 stars. Many stars that appear as single points of light in even the most powerful telescopes are actually systems of two or more stars orbiting one another or a common center of gravity, bound together by their mutual gravitational attraction; the binary stars are most common among these multiple star systems.

In ancient times, the stars were believed to be motionless; their fixed patterns in the sky were designated as the constellations. It is now known that the stars move through space, although their motion is too small to be detected during a human lifetime without exacting measurements. From the observed proper motion (change in apparent position on the celestial sphere), distance of the star from the earth, and radial velocity (motion along the line of sight), the true velocity of a star through space can be determined. See also brown dwarf.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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