The short guide to our nearest cosmic neighbors

Located just 4.3 light-years away, the Alpha Centauri star system is our closest neighbor. But theirs is a very different solar system, as it's home with not one, not two, but three stars. Here's the short guide to Alpha Centauri.

The images up top were taken by the 1-Meter Schmidt Telescope and the European Southern Observatory. In the above image, Alpha Centauri A and B are in the top left, although only a small part of that huge bright flash is actually the stars - the rest is just an illusion created by their immense brightness. At the bottom right of the image is Proxima Centauri, the third star in the system and, as you might guess from the name, the closest of them all to Earth.

A NASA astronomer explains further:

The bright stars Alpha Centauri A and B form a close binary as they are separated by only 23 times the Earth- Sun distance - slightly greater than the distance between Uranus and the Sun. The Alpha Centauri system is not visible in much of the northern hemisphere. Alpha Centauri A, also known as Rigil Kentaurus, is the brightest star in the constellation of Centaurus and is the fourth brightest star in the night sky. Sirius is the brightest even thought it is more than twice as far away. By an exciting coincidence, Alpha Centauri A is the same type of star as our Sun, causing many to speculate that it might contain planets that harbor life.

Via NASA.