Star Trek has a Rigel VII.

Star Wars has a Rigel VII.

Marvel Comics has a Rigel-3.

The Simpsons has a Rigel 7, though I expect this is parodying the aforementioned works.

All of the above systems are orbited by multiple planets, presumably at least 7 of them in most cases, and they're all populated by aliens called Rigellians, though each instance of them portrays them as very different lifeforms.

And besides the above 4, which are by far the most popular and well known, there are many other uses of the Rigel system in Science Fiction.

Does anybody know why it's used so much by so many, especially given that the Rigel system isn't known to have any planets orbiting its stars, let alone any habitable ones?

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    Because it's a nearby and bright star that audiences have heard of.
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 11:55
  • 5
    And its in Transformers. Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 11:58
  • 21
    And there is a floating toad called Rigel in Farscape Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 12:15
  • 9
    It rhymes with Nigel. Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 12:34
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    As for "isn't known to have any planets", all of your examples (except for the Simpsons, which as you say is riffing off the others) were written long before the first confirmed Exoplanet discovery in 1992. Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 21:08

3 Answers 3


Because it's a bright "star" (it's actually a group of stars, and the 7th brightest in the night sky) and its name is familiar with budding star gazers.

It's also enormous and placed in the obvious and well-known constellation of Orion.

The star as seen from Earth is actually a triple, quadruple or quintuple star system, with the primary star (Rigel A) a blue-white supergiant that is estimated to be anywhere from 120,000 to 279,000 times as luminous as the Sun, depending on method used to calculate its properties. It has exhausted its core hydrogen and swollen out to between 79 and 115 times the Sun's radius

It's significant to several world mythologies (prominently in the mythologies of Egypt, China, Japan, and Oceania, less so in Norse and other mythologies), making it Older Than Dirt.

Basically, Rigel was famous long before the western phenomenon of "science fiction writing"; as for Rigel III, Rigel V, and Rigel VII, that would be the Numbered Homeworld trope.

Wikipedia has extensive lists of Rigel's uses in different media and writings.

Adding Rigel or some of Rigel's mythical planets to one's work has become a bit of a trope of science fiction writers and is a nice nod to the greats who have gone before.

  • 48
    Because it's actually several stars Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 13:34
  • 3
    Also Farscape using Rigel XVI
    – DaveRGP
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 16:20
  • 39
    Please add some TV Tropes warnings. Also, you owe me 4 hours of my day.
    – T. Sar
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 17:30
  • 3
    Greetings from Sol III :-) Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 21:36
  • 9
    @TSar: 4 hours? You got off easy. Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 16:05

SciFi authors select stars that can be seen in their backyard, are close by, or both.

Rigel is featured because it is bright and therefore well known. But it is not close, compared to other bright stars. Let us see how Rigel compares to other celebrities:

Top 10 brightest stars in Earth's sky:

1. Sirius: The Patrick Stewart of the sky. "Sirius in fiction" has its own Wikipedia page, and it's long!

2. Canopus: The "Canopus in Argos" novel series is an example. You also find this star on the flag of Brazil. While its constellation is referenced in the Greek story of the Golden Fleece, this is a southern-hemisphere star, literally invisible to most Anglo-American writers.

3. Alpha Centauri: This star needs no introduction! It is also the closest star on the top-ten list, making it the most realistic destination in hard SciFi.

4. Arcturus: Long list of scifi stories, as befitting a bright star

5. Vega: Asimov was here! (along with many other authors)

6. Capella: Maybe not an A-star, but with 20-something works to its name

7. Rigel: Actually rather few stories compared to other stars, even though it makes up one foot of Orion. At a distance of ca 860 lightyears, it's by far the most distant star on the top-ten list, which may explain why SciFi authors have shunned it.

8. Procyon: Belongs to the Canis Minor constellation and has thus plenty of SciFi cred

9. Achernar: Nothing wrong with this star, but in Earth's sky it's in the southern hemisphere, so relatively ignored by western writers. Only 9 works listed on Wikipedia.

10. Betelgeuse: This star is literally on the shoulder of Orion. While that location is known as a major fire hazard for attack ships, Betelgeuse has still fostered notables such as Ford Prefect, been visited by the crew from Planet of the Apes, and generally seen plenty of action.

In short, being bright and nearby makes you a popular SciFi star. But it's clear that visibility trumps distance. Remember that "close" stars didn't stand out in the sky when the myths of old were created. We see this with nearby stars such as Barnard's star, 61 Cygni, and Wolf 359. They all feature in various SciFi works, but to a lesser extent.

Star Trivia: Ross 154, our 9th nearest star, was once considered as the location for the game DOOM but was ditched in favour of the Mars moons Phobos and Deimos. An outrageous decision, as if Claudia "Babylon 5" Christian had been dropped in favour of the Olsen twins!

  • 2
    Hmm, didn't really think about other stars being as popular, if not more so. Maybe it's just because Rigel is present in both Star Wars and Star Trek. It might have fewer works, but it's got a couple of titans in its corner. Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 13:21
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    Procyon: Belongs to the Canis Minor constellation together with Alpha Centauri – Huh? Alpha Centauri belongs to the Centaur constellation, that’s what its designation says.
    – chirlu
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 13:32
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    @DisturbedNeo: The presence in Star Wars is unusual, since Star Wars is not set in the Milky Way Galaxy. So the Rigel there is not the same Rigel as in all the other stories, but a different star which by coincidence has the same name. Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 17:17
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    Top 10 brightest stars in Earth's sky: 1. Sirius Hmm.... Isn't the Sun the brightest star in Earth's sky? Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 9:01
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    @OlivierGrégoire: Unlike all the other stars, Wikipedia has no "sun in fiction" article. Though I seem to recall a couple of stories that take place in its vicinity.
    – Abulafia
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 13:46

The name of Rigel is used because Rigel is one of the best known star names and one of the stars science fiction writers are most likely to have had pointed out and named to them in the night sky. So early generations of science fiction writers used the names of Rigel and other well known stars and later generations of science fiction writers copied that practice because it was already a trope.

It should be noted that the practice of setting space opera stories on planets of stars well known to the readers is rather illogical. The stars that are bright enough as seen from Earth to be visible to the naked eye number less than 10,000. those are the stars that have proper names like Vega or Deneb or Antares; or Bayer constellation designations like Beta Geminorum or Sigma Draconis or Omega Cygni or Alpha Carinae; or Flamsteed constellation numbers like 40 Eridania or 61 Cygni.

They range from rather ordinary main sequence stars that happen to be close to the solar system, like Alpha Centauri the closest star system only 4.3 light years from Earth, to giant stars like Aldebaran and Arcturus tens of light years from Earth, to giant stars, bright giant stars, and super giant stars hundreds of light years from Earth, to bright giant stars, super giant stars, and hyper giant stars thousands of light years from Earth.

According to this question, the most distant naked eye star is probably less than 10,000 light years from Earth.


In our region of the galaxy there are about 0.004 stars per cubic light year.


So a sphere with a radius of 10 light years centered on Earth would contain 4,188.79 cubic light years and thus about 16.755 stars.

So a sphere with a radius of 100 light years centered on Earth would contain 4,188,790 cubic light years and thus about 16,755.16 stars. Even if the less than 10,000 stars visible to the naked eye from Earth were all less than 100 light years from Earth they would be less than 0.596 of all the stars within that distance.

So a sphere with a radius of 1,000 light years centered on Earth would contain 4,188,790,000 cubic light years and thus about 16,755,160 stars. Even if the less than 10,000 stars visible to the naked eye from Earth were all less than 1,000 light years from Earth they would be less than 0.000596 of all the stars within that distance.

Assuming that the galactic disc is about 1,000 light years thick near Earth, a squat cylinder with a height of 1,000 light years and a radius of 10,000 light years should have a volume of about 3.14 times 10 to the 11th power cubic light years and thus about 1.256 times ten to the 9th power stars, or about 1,256,000,000 stars. If all the less than 10,000 stars visible to the naked eye from Earth are less than 10,000 light years from Earth - and they probably all are - they would be less than 0.0000079617 of all the stars within that distance.

Since the galactic disc has a radius of about 50,000 to 60,000 light years, the part of the galactic disc that is within 10,000 light years of Earth is only about 0.04 to 0.0277 of the total volume of the galactic disc.

So in a story set in a galaxy-wide civilization any person's home planet would have only a 0.277 to 0.04 probability of being within the section of the galaxy where stars visible from Earth are found. And any star that a was within that small region of the galaxy would have less than a 0.0000079617 probability of being a star visible to the naked eye from Earth. And of the less than 10,000 stars visible to the naked eye from Earth, probably less than a hundred hav names familiar to most people on Earth.

So stories where all the important stars have names familiar to Earth readers would be fine if set in a fictional imaginary galaxy that only has one hundred stars in it. But they are not so realistic when set in the real galaxy that has a billion (1,000,000,000) times that many stars!

Another thing that I noticed when a kid reaching science fiction and studying astronomy is that more and more of the named stars have measured distances from Earth, distances that keep getting measured more and more accurately. In stories about a star ship exploring the stars, it seems desirable for most of the stars it explores to be at the frontier of exploration, and thus about the same distance from Earth.

And many science fiction writers have no idea of the distance of particular named stars from Earth, and mention names that lead to galactographical inconsistencies.

Furthermore, many famous bright stars are of spectral types that are not likely to have habitable planets or native advanced lifeforms. Thus it might be more plausible to say something like "planet three of Rigel sector star 182l" or "planet Stanortul orbiting a star in the Antares sector" or "Amutere near Deneb" instead of "Rigel III", Antares IX", or "Deneb VII".

There is another group of stars whose names or designations are well known. They are stars that are very close to Earth. Many of them are so dim that they are not visible from Earth even though among the closest stars, and thus don't have names but star catalog numbers, often several different ones for the same star.

in order of distance from Earth they are Alpha (and Proxima) Centauri, Barnard's Star, Luhman 16, WISE 0855-0714, Wolf 359, Lalande 21185, Sirius, Luyten 276-8, Ross 154, Ross 248, Epsilon Eridani, and somewhat farther away: Procyon, 61 Cygni, Epsilon Indi, Tau Ceti, Kruger 60, etc.


Many science fiction writers have read such lists of nearby stars and so they appear in some science fiction stories.

for example, L. Sprague de Camp's Viagens Ineterplanetarias stories starting in the late 1940s are set on planets of nearby stars such as Lalande 21185, Procyon, Epsilon Eridani and Tau Ceti.


And their use was copied by other science fiction writers who have no idea how close or far away they are.

And this can lead to very inconistent mixes of star names (and thus of distances) in some stories.

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