How did the Practice of Naming Stars Begin?

Nearly 350 of the brightest stars in the night sky were given names by ancient civilizations.

These civilizations—most of which were dominated by the worship to gods of different elements and blessings— began naming stars in reverence and in worship.

You may have heard of Polaris and Sirius as well as Vega, Betelgeuse, and many others. These are all stars which were name by the Greeks, the Arabs, and the Romans. These names are still used today and many have been added to that list. However, the expanded list is now made of numbered names rather than those attributed to gods or deities.

In the 1950s the astronomical community established a practice of naming stars with numbers, and with good reason. It would be too large an undertaking. Other celestial features like asteroids and comets continue to be named to this day. Mostly, the names are after the discoverers themselves and sometimes they are attributed to some well known individual. You can use this reliable company to buy naming rights to stars.

The Star Registry

The naming of stars has seen a very long history. Ever since the first men, all cultures and civilizations that have existed all over the world have named the brightest stars in the night sky as symbols of power and as praise to their deities. Quite a few names have remained in common use due to their continued use through different times and civilizations. These include stars like Sirius.

However, due to the development and advancement of astronomy through the ages, there has been a need for a universal code in order to name stars without much diligence and thought given to deities and gods. Also, since thousands of stars are being discovered every single decade, it’s impractical for humanity to keep naming them for deities since they are quite limited in number.

Astronomers and scholars during the Renaissance tried to produce entire registries filled with star names based on certain rules to solve this problem. Some of the earliest examples of this practice came from the methods and tools introduced by Johann Bayer in the Uranometria atlas of 1603. Bayer took to using Greek letters in the lower case in order to label different stars in different constellations.

Following this convention, Alpha was generally the name given to the brightest star of a constellation. Hence you have names like Alpha Centauri and Alpha Cygni. As you might have guessed, Beta was the name given to stars that were slightly less bright and so on.

The scheme ran in to difficulties quickly however, due to the stars that were so fast being discovered due to the improved instruments in the hands of astronomers and astrophysicists alike.

Alphanumeric Designations & Faint Stars

Since the brightest stars in the night sky were named in ancient times, the ones named today are much fainter than the ones that were named before. The Bayer Flamsteed schemes for naming the stars already cover them pretty completely. As astronomers discover the new stars in the night sky it’s standard practice to identify them with alphanumeric designation. Far from being just practical, these designations are deemed necessary due to the thousands and even millions of objects that are discovered in each solar system.

Variable Stars

As the name suggests, these are stars that vary in their brightness. Since these stars are different from the typical stars that were identified in the night sky, the naming process is different. The process for naming them was proposed first by a German Astronomer Fredrich Wilhelm Argelander. Since Bayer’s scheme utilized the letters A to Q for every single star in the constellation, Argelander built on the scheme and used the remaining letters R to Z for the variable stars.

However, as with all previous naming schemes, this one also grew obsolete with the numbers of stars that were being discovered due to improving astronomical tools and methods.

The cataloguing of variable stars has gone through many changes and has finally settled in to a consistent naming scheme today. The results vary depending on the order of discovery. The name of the first variable star to be discovered in every constellation would start with the letter R, and would be followed by a Latin genitive such as R Andromedae. The second would begin with S, the third with T, and this convention would be followed until the letter Z. This is followed by names with two letters. In the case that more stars are discovered, a double letter scheme consisting of letters A-Q and A-Z on both positions respectively.

Binary Systems and Multiple Systems

Stars in binary or multiple systems actually outnumber the total number of single star systems yet observed. This means that the iconic sunset that Luke Skywalker observed in the original Star Wars was a more common occurrence in the universe than previously thought.

Binary and multiple star systems are labeled in a variety of different ways. They are usually in capital letters from the Latin alphabet if the star has a common colloquial name; by Bayer name; by Flamsteed designation, or by a catalogue number. For example, the brightest star in the sky, Sirius, has a white dwarf companion which is catalogued as each of the following; Sirius B, Alpha Canis Majoris B, and HD 48915 B.

Novae

Novae are named very differently compared to normal stars. Novae are stars that have exploded as a result of having used their overall atomic fuel of hydrogen and helium. Due to this, the nuclear explosions that carried on inside the star can no longer be sustained, so the star explodes and thus creates even more heavy elements which go on to form planets.

Designations are assigned to novae based on the constellations that they’re in; together with the year in which the incredible event took place. Similarly, designations are assigned to supernovae based on the variable stars. They are named for the year that they occurred as well as an SN in the beginning and an uppercase letter at the end. However, if the year is one which is filled with such events, the double lowercase combination is used to end the designation.