The stars lie at mind-boggling distances. The nearest stars are a little more than 4 light-years away; those making up the dusty Milky Way around Auriga lie at an average distance of 2,500 light-years.
Distances to the nearest stars are obtained by measuring their annual parallax. This is the slight shift of a nearby star against the more distant background stars that occurs as Earth orbits the Sun. The nearer the star, the greater its displacement. With stars that are much farther away, astronomers estimate the star's distance by calculating the difference between its absolute and apparent magnitudes.