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See Inside November 2009

The Long-Lost Siblings of the Sun

The sun was born in a family of stars. What became of them?



Ron Miller

People have often sought solitude in the starry night sky, and it is an appropriate place for that. The night is dark because, in cosmic terms, our sun and its family of planets are very lonely. Neighboring stars are so far away that they look like mere specks of light, and more distant stars blur together into a feeble glow. Our fastest space probes will take tens of thousands of years to cross the distance to the nearest star. Space isolates us like an ocean around a tiny island.

Yet not all stars are so secluded. About one in 10 belongs to a cluster, a swarm of hundreds to tens of thousands of stars with a diameter of a few light-years. In fact, most stars are born in such groups, which generally disperse over billions of years, their stars blending in with the rest of the galaxy. What about our sun? Might it, too, have come into existence in a star cluster? If so, our location in the galaxy was not always so desolate. It only became so as the cluster dispersed in due time.

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