|Introduction to star names|
|The names astronomers now use for the stars are often strange and romantic sounding. They are a mixture of names from Greek, Latin and Arabic. In my talk "The Story of Star Names", I look back at the origins of these names in the ancient civilisations of the Middle East.|
The pattern of constellations (groupings of stars) we use today has Mesopotamian origins and was adopted in ancient Greece and Egypt. The constellations make up an interesting collection of animals, mythical beasts and heroes. In the ancient Greek scientific tradition, early astronomers, such as Hipparchus and Ptolemy described stars by their location within constellations. They typically used terms such as the "star on the beak" or the "eye of the bull".
When the ancient Greek scientific tradition ended, the star location descriptions were translated into Arabic and used by astronomers working within the Islamic world. They also used some star names originating in the independent Arabic tradition of star folklore.
During the Renaissance in Western Europe, Arabic astronomical books were translated into Latin. As a result of this translation, the Arabic star names and location descriptions became latinised into the names we use today. As astronomy developed with the use of the telescope, new systems of naming stars and other astronomical objects were invented such as the Bayer Letters, a system where the brightest stars in each constellation are given a Greek letter, and Flamsteed Numbers. Messier (M) Numbers and NGC (New General Catalogue) Numbers are used for identifying other celestial objects, such as star clusters, galaxies and nebulae.
My talk follows this fascinating story through the centuries to the present day, where new names for the stars are still being invented. As a taster for the talk, this website contains information on the names of a few of the brightest stars. I hope, in time, to expand on this information.
|The ancient Greek astronomer Hipparchus used a system of designating the brightness of stars, called magnitudes which is still useful today. Under this system, the brightest stars were given a magnitude of 1, the second rank magnitude 2, and so on down to stars just visible without telescopes, designated magnitude 6. In modern times the system has been adapted with very bright objects being given minus magnitudes, such as the star Sirius (mag -1.4) and very faint stars only visible through powerful telescopes, having magnitudes of 20 or more.|
|Arab star names|
|The leading expert on star names, Paul Kunitzsch, has identified 2 traditions of Arab star names. The first is the traditional star folklore of the Arabs which he has named "Indigenous-Arabic" (Ind), the second being the scientific Islamic Arabic tradition, which he designates "Scientific-Arabic" (Sci). I have adopted this distinction in the star names information given here.|
|Home||My talks||Star names||About Mark||Constellations|