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Birthday Stars

Astronomers measure distances to the stars in terms of light years, units that combine time and distance. One light year is the distance light travels in one year; so if you look at a star ten light years from Earth, the light you see from it left ten years ago and is therefore ten years old.

To see starlight that's your age—or the age of a friend or family member—use the table below. When you've found the star whose light is the right age, you can:

  1. Copy its name and paste it into our star chart to find its location in the sky. If it's a bright star, you might try to find it by printing the star chart, making a red-light, night-vision flashlight, and heading outside. If it's dim, you may need a telescope. Try going to a star party or public observatory and ask the astronomers to show it to you. (Visit our Local Societies page to find local amateur astronomers.)
  2. Find out more about it by going to STARS—a web site by an astronomer devoted to the bright stars.

The table below lists:

  1. The age of the person whose star you're looking for.
  2. The star's name. Stars can have several names, ranging from Arabic or Greek proper names for the brightest stars (such as Sirius) to various catalog numbers. The names used in this column work best for locating the star using the "find" command on digital star charts. Stars used to be named in order of brightness within a given constellation in order of their brightness, with Alpha being the brightest, Beta the second-brightest, and so on. (In this system, the constellation name is given with the Latin genitive case; so the brightest star in Orion is Alpha Orionis or Alpha Ori.) Early estimates of which star is brightest were based on visual observations alone and often proved to be flawed, but the naming system is still widely employed.
  3. The star's precise distance, in light years.
  4. The star's apparent magnitude ("Mag."), a measure of its brightness as seen from Earth. (In this system, the numbers get larger as the stars get dimmer. Bright stars are of magnitude 0, 1, or 2, while the dimmest stars generally visible with unaided eyes are of about magnitude 6.) Stars in this table with magnitudes dimmer than about 6 can only be viewed with binoculars or a telescope. Exceptionally bright stars have negative magnitudes (such as Sirius, the brightest star in our skies, mag. -1.4.) A star's apparent magnitude—how bright it looks to us—results from both its actual light output and its distance from Earth—so an inherently brilliant star that is far from Earth will look dim in the sky, while an ordinary star nearby will look bright (which is the case for the Sun!).
  5. Comments. Here we give a bit more information on each star (including the name of the constellation, or star pattern, in which it is located, and its location, referenced in compass directions (N, S, E, W) and degrees ("deg.") on the sky. To estimate degrees of angle in the sky ("deg." in our comments table), consider that your fist at arm's length takes up about 10 degrees of the sky, while the full Moon is about half a degree wide.

Most of the stars in this table can be seen from Earth's northern hemisphere with the naked eye. Exceptions, listed in italics, are those either too dim to see without binoculars or a telescope (check their magnitudes and note it is higher than 6) or too far south to be seen from most locations in the northern hemisphere.

Birthday Star Chart
Note: Stars listed in italics are too dim to see by naked eye.

Your Age Star Distance (light years) Magnitude Comments
0 Sun (8 light-minutes) -26.7 The "birthday star" for babies born today is the Sun!
4 Alpha Centauri 4.4 0 Nearest known star to the Sun; actually part of a triple star system; bright, but too far south to be seen from North America
6 Barnard's Star 6 5.9 E. E. Barnard discovered that this star is speeding toward the Sun; it will become the nearest star to us in 10,000 years
8 Wolf 359 7.8 13.4 Very faint dwarf in Leo, the Lion; visible with a medium-sized telescope
9 Sirius 8.6 -1.4 Brightest star in Earth's skies; can cast shadows on dark, clear nights
10 Epsilon Eri 10.5 3.7 Less luminous than the Sun today but may resemble the young Sun (closest star known to have a planet)
11 Procyon 11.4 0.4 More luminous than the Sun and about twice as big; in Canis Minor, near Sirius
12 Tau Ceti 11.9 3.5 First star to be examined by radio astronomers searching for signals from intelligent life; they heard nothing
15 Gliese 876 15.3 10.2 Dwarf star in Aquarius, the Water Bearer; has planets
16 Keid 16.5 4.4 Multiple star (as discovered by William Herschel) in Eridanus, the River, W of Orion
17 Altair 16.8 0.8 Bright, rapidly-spinning star in Aquila, the Eagle
18 Van Biesbroeck's Star 18.7 17.4 Small, dim, cool star that sometimes flares up
19 Eta Cass 19.4 3.5 Westernmost star in the "W" of Cassiopeia, the Queen; Sunlike, has an orange companion—as Herschel discovered, in August 1779
20 36 Oph 19.5 4.3 Double star which can be resolved ("split") with a small telescope; 10 deg. SW of the bright star Antares
21 Xi Bootes 21.9 4.5 Double star, resolvable with small telescopes
24 107 Piscium 24.4 5.2 Inconspicuous orange dwarf in Pisces, the Fishes
25 Vega 25.3 0 Brilliant blue-white "diamond" star in Lyra, the Lyre; may be forming planets
26 Chi Draconis 26.3 3.6 Lies E of the bowl of the Little Dipper
27 Beta CVn 27.3 4.2 Yellow star NW of the Big Dipper's bowl, in the constellation Canes Venatici, the Hunting Dogs
28 Chi1 Ori 28.3 4.4 In Orion, The Hunter, 12 deg. N of Betelgeuse
29 Gamma Lep 29.3 3.6 Double star, "splittable" with binoculars and of attractive colors, sometimes described as yellow and garnet; in Lepus, the Hare
30 Kappa1 Cet 29.9 4.8 Multiple star in Cetus, the Whale, SW of Aldebaran
31 61 UMa 31.1 5.3 In Ursa Major, the Big Bear, 20 deg. S of Big Dipper's bowl; may have planets
32 12 Oph 31.9 5.8 Variable star but otherwise resembles the Sun; in Ophiuchus, the Serpent Handler,
33 Alpha Men 33.1 5.1 Southern-hemisphere star in Mensa, the Table
34 Pollux 33.7 1.2 The southern (and warmer-colored) member of the two bright stars, Castor and Pollux, in Gemini, the Twins
35 Zeta Her 35.2 2.8 Multiple star at the SW corner of the "Keystone" of Hercules, the legendary strongman
36 Denebola 36.2 2.1 "The Lion's Tail"; resembles Sirius
37 Arcturus 36.7 -0.1 "Follow the arc"—of the Big Dipper's handle—"to Arcturus" is the start of many star-finding lessons; in Bootes, the Herdsman
38 Lambda Ser 38.3 4.4 Yellow star in Serpens, the Serpent
39 Delta Cap 38.6 2.8 White star on the ecliptic in Capricorn, the Goat
40 Beta Tra 40.2 2.8 Southern star, 9 deg. E of Alpha Centauri in Triangulum Australe, the Southern Triangle
41 Lambda Aur 41.2 4.7 Elderly dwarf star due S of Capella in Auriga, the Charioteer
42 Capella 42.2 0.1 Brightest star in Auriga; color variously described as reddish to golden, perhaps because it is a double star but too close to be resolved even through a telescope
43 58 Eri 43.4 5.5 Sunlike star in Eriadanus, the River
44 Theta UMa 43.9 3.2 Yellow star SE of the Big Dipper's bowl
45 Gamma Cep 44.9 3.2 Located 12deg from Polaris, in Cepheus, the Ethiopian King
46 Alpha For 46.3 3.9 Double star in Fornax, the Furnace
47 Eta Cep 46.7 3.4 In Cepheus, 20deg. SW of the "W" in Cassiopeia; one of Barnard's dark nebulae lies 1.6deg. S
48 Alderamin 48.8 2.5 Bright star in Cepheus, the King; the slow wobble of Earth's axis (called "precession") will make it the north Pole Star—5,500 years from now
49 51 Peg 50 5.5 Just E of the "Great Square" of Pegasus, the Winged Horse; first normal star around which planets were discovered
50 Delta Aql 50.1 3.4 In the Milky Way at the center of Aquila, the Eagle
51 Castor 51.6 1.6 Northern (and bluer) of Gemini's two brightest stars
52 104 Tau 51.8 4.9 In Taurus, the Bull, 7.5 deg. W of Aldebaran; twice as old as the Sun
53 Xi Peg 53 4.2 In Pegasus, SW of the Great Square
54 Beta Cas 54.5 2.3 Easternmost star in the "W" of Cassiopea; variable
55 Tau1 Hya 55.8 4.6 SW of Leo, in Hydra, the Water Snake
56 Xi Oph 56.7 4.4 In the Milky Way in Ophiuchus, near the ecliptic
57 58 Oph 57.2 4.9 On the ecliptic E of Scorpius
58 Delta Leo 57.7 2.6 Luminosity 50 times the Sun's; 10 deg. NW of Denabola
59 70 Vir 59.1 5 Sunlike star in Virgo, the Virgin
60 Navi 60.9 4.8 Yellow star E of Gamma Cas, the center of Cassiopeia's "W"
61 Mu Vir 60.9 3.9 In Virgo, W of Libra
62 Eta Ser 61.8 3.2 In Serpens, the Serpent, 8 deg. NW of the "Wild Duck" star cluster (M11)
63 Beta Pic 62.9 3.9 In the southern constellation Pictor, the Painter, 6 deg. NW of the bright star Canopus; appears to be forming planets
64 Alpha Tri 64.1 3.4 In Triangulum, the Northern Triangle, 4 deg. SW of the Pinwheel galaxy (M33)
65 Aldeberan 65.1 0.9 Brightest star in Taurus, the Bull
66 Alpha Ari 65.9 2 Giant star W of the Pleiades
67 Sigma2 U Ma 66.7 4.8 In Ursa Major, W of the Big Dipper's bowl,
68 Tau Cyg 68.3 3.7 Outlying star in Cygnus, the Swan, just under 10 deg. SE of Deneb
69 40 Leo 69 4.8 In central Leo, less than 1 deg S of the bright star Algieba
70 Zeta Lep 70.2 3.55 Blue-white star S of Orion in Lepus, the Hare
71 Alpha Hya 71.3 2.9 Orange giant, wide as 30 Suns; brightest star in Hydra, the Water Snake
72 Epsilon Cyg 72.1 2.5 Tepid orange giant; innermost star in the right wing of Cygnus, the Swan
73 Mu Cyg 73.06 4.5 Close double star whose duplicity was discovered by William Herschel; at tip of the Swan's right wing
74 39 Leo 74.1 5.8 On the Lion's back, 0.3deg. SE of the brighter star Adhafera; use binoculars
75 Alphecca 74.7 2.2 Eclipsing binary star that changes brightness (by only 0.1 magnitude) every 17.4 days; in Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown
76 Omega Dra 76.5 4.8 Near Little Dipper, in Draco, the Dragon
77 Regulus 77.5 1.4 Blue-white giant, 120 times as luminous as the Sun; brightest star in Leo
78 Mizar 78.2 2.2 Naked-eye double star with its partner, the fainter Alcor, and itself a telescopic double; in Ursa Major, at the crook of the Big Dipper's handle
79 SAO1002 78.6 10.4 Double star in Camelopardalis, the Giraffe; requires a telescope
80 7 And 79.9 4.5 One star among many in the rich star clouds of the Milky Way, in Andromeda
81 Alioth 80.9 1.8 The "bright eye" in the Big Dipper's handle, immediately W of Mizar and Alcor
82 Beta Oph 81.9 2.8 Pale yellow; good in binoculars
83 Zeta Aql 83.3 3 Tip of Aquila the Eagle's West wing
84 Sabik 84.1 2.4 White star E of Scorpius, in the ecliptic near the Milky Way
85 Seginus 85.2 3 Just under 10 deg. N of Arcturus
86 Tau3 Eri 86.2 4.1 SW of Orion, in Eridanus, the River
87 Algorab 87.9 2.9 At the NE corner of Corvus, the Crow
88 Epsilon Cet 88.2 4.8 In Cetus, the Whale, 10 deg. SE of Mira
89 Ascella 89.1 2.6 Bright enough to stand out against the rich star clouds of the central Milky Way; in eastern Sagittarius, the Archer.
90 15 Peg 90.2 5.5 In Pegasus, on the E edge of the Milky Way's glowing river of stars
91 38 Gem 91.1 4.7 In Gemini, all but lost amid Milky Way star clouds
92 Omega And 92.3 4.8 Look 9 deg. NE of the Andromeda galaxy
93 Algol 92.8 2.1 The most famous variable star in the sky; an "eclipsing binary" that dips in brightness, from mag. 2.1 to mag. 3.4, when the primary star is partly eclipsed by its dimmer companion. In Perseus, 18 deg. NNE of the Pleiades star cluster.
94 Lambda Gem 94.3 3.6 Variable star of the Cepheid type, which can be used to measure distances; in Gemini, at the right knee of the eastern Twin
95 Gamma Oph 94.8 3.75 In Ophiuchus, 18 deg. NW of the Wild Duck star cluster (M11)
96 Diphda 95.8 2 A yellow star near the ecliptic in Cetus, the whale
97 Alpheratz 97.1 2.1 NE corner of the "Great Square" linking Andromeda and Pegasus; spectrum displays "weather" in form of sulfur clouds on its surface
98 SAO141665 98 4.5 In central Ophiuchus
99 Nu1 Dra 99.9 4.9 Part of a telescopic double star in Draco, the Dragon
100 Nu2 Dra 99.9 4.9 The other member of this pretty pair of white stars (see 99)
101 Alkaid 100.7 1.85 White star at the tip of the Big Dipper's handle

Some Comments on the Chart

Looking over the chart, you may have noticed that it's missing entries for several ages—notably 2, 3, 5, and 7—and that our entry for age 6, Barnard's Star, is too dim to be seen without a telescope. But at greater distances there's a bright star for nearly every age. What's up with that? The reason is that as we go out farther, we're sampling steeply larger volumes of space, and therefore have more stars to choose from. (The volume goes up as 4/3?R3, where ? = 3.14 and R is the distance, meaning the radius of the sphere in which we are searching.) In cases where we had several options, we have picked the brightest star visible from northern latitudes, where most—though by no means all!—observers dwell.

Certain commercial concerns offer to "name" stars for individuals—at a price. These star "registries" have no official sanction. Astronomical objects are named by the International Astronomical Union, according to internationally agreed-upon protocols which do not permit naming stars for living persons. Stars rarely get names these days, but catalog numbers But while you cannot legitimately name a star for yourself or a friend or family member, we invite you to observe a star whose light is as old as you are, or they are, and to possess a photo of it if you like. Like the night sky, it's free!

Our list of Birthday Stars is based on a book project of that title initiated by Timothy Ferris in 1997. For another approach, visit the Joint Astronomy Center in Hawaii.

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