If It Weren’t For This, the Stars Wouldn’t Have Their Names!

We’ve all heard the stories of the North Star guiding sailors through the mighty oceans to their destinations. We’ve got songs and poems based on stars – remember chanting “like a diamond in the sky” every time you were asked to recite a nursery rhyme?

Star Cluster
A Star Cluster

Stars have been around for centuries and have been the point of fascination for as long as we humans have existed.

But were you aware of the fact that every star that you see shining in the sky on a clear night actually has a name?

Stars were given names since the ancient times. It gave astronomers the opportunity to study select stars in a precise manner.

Why else do you think the North Star is called so?

While some stars get proper names, others are named using a catalog number as and when they are observed by someone. However, the interesting question remains:

How do stars get their names?

Let’s find that out.

In ancient times the constellations were seen as patterns that resembled objects, animals, or people – some constellations like “Orion” even became a representation of the Greek myth of Orion the Hunter. This is one of the major reasons why most stars have been named in a mix of Latin and Greek languages. There is Bellatrix and Cappella (Latin), Canopus and Alcyone (Greek), and Alnair and Caph (Arabic), among various other stars.

Can you name a few popular stars? Let us give you a start; there’s the Sirius and Rigel – how many more can you think of?

But giving fancy names to the stars has diminished to a mere act of the past. In today’s world, Stars are mostly assigned a numerical descriptor. The descriptor is reflective of the star’s position in the sky at night. These numbers are generally associated to a catalog. The star catalogs are used to group stars with similar properties or on the basis of the instrument that discovered their radiation initially.

Modern day astronomers often make use of constellations to name the stars. There are 88 officially recognized constellations in the universe. It’s the International Astronomical Union that keeps record and track of the naming of celestial objects. The stars within a constellation are named using Greek alphabets: alpha, beta, gamma, and so on followed by the name of their constellation for scientific recognition. The brightest star called is the “alpha” and the rest follow. Once all Greek letters are used, the remaining stars are assigned numerical designations.

There are a number of stars that have been named since the ancient times, like the Betelgeuse. In Arabic it translates to “the hand of the giant”. Since the Betelgeuse is the brightest star of the Orion constellation, it gets the scientific name Alpha Orionis.

Did you know that the North Star’s actual name is Polaris? It is also sometimes referred to as the Pole Star.

As displeasing to the ears as the modern day names of the stars may sound, thy prove extremely useful in helping astronomers search, study, and learn more about a particular star in the night sky.  These names are internationally agreed upon and used worldwide to avoid confusions.


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