n MNASSA : Monthly Notes of the Astronomical Society of South Africa - The discovery of the nearest star : history of astronomy




In the 1830s, the double star α Centauri was the subject of the first successful stellar parallax measurement. For almost eighty years it remained the nearest star known. However, in 1915 at the Union Observatory in Johannesburg, R.T.A. Innes found a faint object near α Cen with a similar proper motion. Its parallax was measured over the following two years by J.G.E.G. Voûte at the Cape and by Innes himself. The latter, on the basis of inadequate data, declared it to be closer than α and named it 'Proxima Centaurus'. The first statistically significant data that implied it truly is the nearest star were published in 1928 by H.L. Alden, based on observations at the Yale Southern Station in Johannesburg. Discordant results continued however to appear until 1966. The measurements made by the Hipparcos astrometric satellite appear to have established its proximity beyond question.


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