Traditional Star Names


Traditional Star Names

Many individual stars, especially the brightest ones, also have proper traditional star names given to them by ancient cultures. Though all the constellations have Latin names, most of the proper names for individual stars within the constellations are Arabic in origin, because during the European Dark Ages, when Europe lacked interest in science and astronomy, Claudius Ptolemy’s manuscript the Almagest that contained the original Greek and Latin names for stars was temporarily adopted by the Arabs, who translated many of the original Greek and Latin star names into Arabic. For example, the Arabs translated "Opisthen" (Οπισθεν "after" or "following"Greek) or "Opiso" (Οπισω "to follow after" Greek), one of the original Greek names for the brightest star in Taurus, as "Aldebaran" (الدبران), which means "the Follower" in Arabic, because the star always follows behind the Pleiades as both move across the sky. In all, there are three major names for the brightest star in Taurus, the proper name Aldebaran, and the scientific names Alpha Tauri and 87 Tauri. Any of these three names can be used for the brightest star in Taurus, however, present day astronomers preferably use the latter two names, which are scientific names.

Most proper names for stars, especially the Arabic names, are descriptive of the locations of the stars within their parent constellations. For example, the star named Rigel (Arabic for "foot") marks the left foot of Orion the Hunter. Deneb (Arabic for "tail") marks the tail of Cygnus the Swan. The star scientifically called Gamma Gruis is named "Ras Alkurki" (Arabic for "Head of the Crane") because it marks the head of Grus the Crane. "Ras" is Arabic for "head", and "Alkurki" is Arabic for "the crane" (Kaler, 2002). Many Arabic star names carry the prefix Al-, which means the definite article "the" in Arabic. Some stars were given names with meanings having nothing to do with their parent constellation. For example, there is a star in Lepus the Hare named "Nihal", meaning "The Camels Quenching Their Thirst" in Arabic, because ancient Arabians saw the constellation Lepus as a caravan of camels instead of a hare.

Due to their enormous popularity, a remnant of bright stars retained their original Greek or Latin names, surviving the mass invasion of Arabic names. Examples include Sirius (Greek for "searing" or "scorching"), Arcturus (Greek for "Guardian of the Bear"), Capella (Latin for "she-goat"), and Spica (Latin for "Ear of Grain"). Star names from other cultures, such as Chinese and Hindu, have also been recognized within the last century. Examples include Koo She (Chinese for "Bow and Arrow") and Ashlesha (Vedic-Hindu for "The Embracing One"). There are also contemporary proper names given to some stars, many of which refer to accomplished astronomers, deceased astronauts and English titles. For example, Gamma Velorum is named "Regor", which is "Roger" spelled backwards; the name honors Astronaut Roger B. Chaffee, who died in the Apollo I tragedy. Other contemporary names include "The Persian" (Alpha Indi) and "The Head of Hydrus" (Alpha Hydri), "Herschel's Garnet Star" (Mu Cephei), Barnard's Star, etc. A very important thing to remember is that all proper and scientific names given to the stars are capitalized ("Vega", Alpha Lyrae, 3 Lyrae), because they are special names applied to objects of fame and great importance.

Lost and Misplaced Star Names

Cultures of antiquity were deeply indulged in star lore and composed many myths and legends about what they imagined among the constellations in the sky, naming the stars in the process. Most of the star names given by the ancient cultures were entirely lost in history, mainly because Europe, during the Dark Ages, harbored contempt for star lore and the naming of stars and constellations, regarding such a practice as sinful astrology, as the Roman Catholic Church dominated every aspect of society during that time. The Catholic Church launched Crusades across much of the Old World in hopes of eradicating paganism, heretics, and Islamic religion. Most books about star names were either destroyed or suppressed from the general public, both during and after the Crusades. Many names were given to some of the brightest stars by the cultures of antiquity, however, only a remnant of such names survive today. For example, there is evidence that Alpha Lyrae was called by more than forty different names by various cultures; however, only the name "Vega" and a few other names for Alpha Lyrae survive to this day. The names given to many other stars were also lost, while other names were erroneously misplaced to incorrect stars over the course of history. For this reason, many stars on today's traditional star maps lack proper names. In addition, the Arab astronomers erroneously scrambled, misplaced and suppressed many of the original Greek and Latin names recorded in Ptolemy's "Almagest". It is not that such stars as Epsilon Eridani were never named, its just that the actual names for such stars were either lost or misplaced in history. Some of these lost and misplaced star names have recently been recovered and revealed within the last century by archeologists, and more names continue to be recovered and revealed.

Many independent astronomical and astrological businesses or organizations claim to sell the opportunity to "name a star". These names are not recognized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The IAU is the most influential organization that names stars and other celestial objects; it is the only one recognized by mainstream astronomers, on star maps, and in science textbooks.

The administering of proper names to stars has diminished to a great extent in modern times. Nowadays, the giving of proper names to stars is a job left primarily to the ancient cultures that made a major contribution to humanity’s innate admiration of the heavens as they imagined so many wonderful pictures and myths among the stars. If a specific nameless star ever does receive a proper name, usually its not really a "new" name but a name already given to that star by one of the ancient cultures, a name that was recently recovered and made public by the International Astronomical Union.

ee also

* List of traditional star names
* List of Arabic Star Names
* Inuit astronomy

External links

* [http://www.naic.edu/~gibson/starnames/ Star Names, by Steven Gibson]
* [http://www.astro.uiuc.edu/~kaler/sow/starname.html Star Names, by Jim Kaler]
* [http://www.ianridpath.com/starnames.htm Star Names, by Ian Ridpath]


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