Once upon a time there was a little baby star. It was born in a special place called a nebula. There, stardust makes big clouds of hot gases that swirl around and then come together to form stars.
The baby star was very curious to see the galaxy, so it left the nebula and went looking to find a place to call home.
The baby star was very friendly, and he liked meeting his neighbors.
There was a very kindly old red dwarf.
There was a beautiful super nova who cheered him on.
But he had to watch out and not get sucked into a black hole!
Then the baby star met a very cheerful looking yellow star. This star had a bunch of little balls circling around it.
“Hello,” said the baby star. “What are these?”
The yellow star said, “They are my pets. I call them planets.”
The baby star looked at the planets. They were different sizes and colors. One had big hoops around it. The biggest one had a round spot on it. One of them was blue and green and had swirling white blotches on it.
“They have names,” said the big yellow star. “This one is Mercury, then Venus, then Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus.”
“Do you have a name too?” asked the baby star.
“I’m called the Sun. What is your name?”
“I don’t have one yet. How do I get a name?”
“There are little people on my blue and green planet. They are the ones who make up the names.”
“It’s so nice here, may I stay here with you?” asked the little star.
“Yes you may, as long as you don’t disturb my planets,” said the Sun.
The little star found a nice spot nearby and settled in. At first he enjoyed just watching the little planets going around.
After a while, he got bored. He started jumping around and turning somersaults to amuse himself.
This made everything next to the Sun bounce around. Instead of going around in their circles, the planets started to zig zag.
“Stop that!” said the Sun very sternly. “Look what you’re doing! Now their orbits are all messed up. It took me millennia to get them timed just right.”
The little star was very ashamed. “I’m sorry,” he said.
He nudged each planet back into its orbit. He straightened out the rings of Saturn, which had become all tangled.
Last, he steadied the Earth and its little moon in just the right spot.
“How about you sit right over there,” suggested the Sun, and pointed at a place a little farther away. “There you can still chat with me, but you won’t have to worry so much about upsetting my solar system.”
And that is how the closest star to our solar system got there. The people on Earth named it Alpha Centauri.
Author’s note: After I made up this story, I was curious whether stars actually can travel around the galaxy independent of their galactic orbits. I found a really interesting website called Ask an Astronomer, from Cornell University, where you can actually pose questions and get real astronomers to answer them for you. The answer was, yes, they do have some wiggle room within their orbits. Also, some stars can be affected by events such as the explosions of supernovae and the pull of black holes.
Also, most of these images come from NASA. For a more complete list of image credits go here.
NASA also provides a cute website for kids. Check out the NASA Kids Club