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61 Cygni

Still Image (Now)
Animation (6,000 Years)

61 Cygni, a faint star in the constellation Cygnus, is very famous in the history of astronomy. In the 17th and 18th centuries, astronomers discovered that the stars were not fixed in space, but moved slowly over the course of the millennia. The English astronomer Edmond Halley (of later comet fame) showed that many of the brighter naked-eye stars, such as Arcturus and Sirius, had moved from the positions ancient Greek astronomers had observed.

In 1792, the Italian astronomer Piazzi showed that 61 Cygni moves even more quickly than any other star observed to that date (several times faster than Arcturus or Sirius), and called it "The Flying Star". Since then, several other stars moving even more quickly have been discovered, but 61 Cygni remains the fastest-moving naked-eye star. 61 Cygni's fast motion arises from its relatively near distance (10.3 light years) and a somewhat higher-than-average space velocity with respect to the rest of the Galaxy.

The animation shows 61 Cygni's motion over 6,000 years -- a huge time in human history, but a blink of the eye on astronomical time scales. Of the stars in the chart, only 61 Cygni moves greatly during this time. Most stars require 50,000 or more years to move a similar smount.

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