On a highly personal note, I have been for some time particularly annoyed about the use of the proper name for the bright southern star Gamma Crucis. It was named, from what I can find discover, by an American astronomer sometime in the 20th century. Gacrux, the 23rd brightest star in the sky, has the most atrocious and inelegant name, compared to all other stars in the sky. I still cannot find out (but I will) if the I.A.U. has really ratified this really terrible name! At least, ‘Sky Atlas 2000.0’ Vol. 1, pg.313 (Edition 1), has put brackets around the name. So I pray that it is provisional. The name anyway brings terrible thoughts to the mind. Perhaps Gacrux is some kind of new drug or suppository.

At least Alpha Crucis had some originality in it’s name Acrux. The name is clever, simply based on a combination of Alpha or ‘a’ and Crux. It was first used by Elijah H. Burritt, who was a renown American astronomer and popularist. He published, for the general population, several star atlases between the years 1833 and 1856, that sold over 250 000 copies. (The Sky Atlas 2000.0 of its day.) Much of the nomenclature given by him regarding southern stars still remains. The name Acrux was presumably coined by him, though from +41o North, he could never really see the star.

Another is the orange star of Alpha Triangulum Austrinus or Atria, which is a combination of Alpha and the first three letters of Triangulum Austrinius. This was not a name derived from Elijah Burritt, and I could not find reference to it in any other literature. Again, I presume it was named by the Americans. At least in Sky Atlas 2000.0, Vol.1, pg. 404, gives the star a provisional name. A better name would perhaps be Atriaus, as to not be confused with the other northern constellation, Triangulum. Alpha Triangulum Austinius perhaps deserves an improved (I.A.U. ratified.) proper name, if only because it is the 33rd brightest star in the sky.

Interestingly, this method of name combined with the constellation for a star name is not new. The first instance was the alternative name for the Pleiades, as listed in Bayer’s first 16th Century star atlas. John Chilmead, an English writer on celestial and terrestrial globes, term the Pleiades, in Latin as Tauria Quasi Taurinae. The name, we believe, became bastardised to the shortened form ‘Atauri’a sometime during medieval times. This nomenclature did not stay, as the Biblical references referred to the older name of the Pleiades. The name ‘Atauria’ cannot be posited, as it is confused to the bright orange-red star of Alpha Tauri or Aldebaran.

Some have even stretched this ‘cold draconian imperialism’ even further. In my copy of the computer program #8216;Sky Map’ Version 2.2, the proper name for Beta Crucis is given as Becrux! Nowhere else can I find the reference to this name. The proper name for this star is commonly referred as Mimosa. I believe that this name has not been even ratified by the I.A.U. Yet, it’s the 20th brightest star in the sky! In Sky Atlas 2000.0, the charts and Volume 1 of the atlas, the proper name of Mimosa, nor any other name, is actually given!

Southern observers should find a better name to select for Gamma Crucis, with the name Gacrux sent back, in total disgust, to the Americans whom damn well named it! While we're at it, what should the proper names be for the stars Delta and Epsilon Crucis? Both these stars also deserve proper names, as they are both bright (Magnitude 2.80 and 3.59, respectively.), and highly obvious. Why not? If it was in, say, Ursa Major they surely would be! If we don't look out, they will probably give them predictable Americanised names, like Decrux and Epicrux! Yuck!

Another star that deserves a better name is Beta Carinae near the border of the constellations of Carina and Chameleon. Beta Carinae is the 32nd brightest star in the sky having the proper name of Miaplacidus, as first given by Burritt in his 1856 book Geography. The origin of Miaplacidus is not known. Again, this name is another corruption, almost definitely invented by Burritt. William Higgins, the presumed authority regarding star names, derives it from the Arabic name of Miah, as Miyah. It was Edmond Halley, in 1679, that originally placed this 1.86 magnitude star in the now defunct constellation of Robur Carlolinium or Charles’ Oak. The ‘Oak’ was kept until the explorer La Caille complained that its addition totally ruined the constellation of Argo. Because of his forthright comments, Robur disappeared from the charts between the years 1730 and 1735. The star has changed designation three times, from Alpha Roburis, then Beta Argus to the today’s Beta Carinae. This blue-white star perhaps should be called either Beargus, Berobur, Becar or even Becarina, if we follow the American precedents. (Worst it would change Canopus. It’s name would then become either Arobur (sounds like a good name for a new fragrant perfume!), Acar or Acarina. How about the name, I Coramba!) Perhaps the original name of Miaplacidus is better?

What about Alpha Pavonis? It also a bright star with the odd name of Peacock, though Pavo has the English name also as Peacock. Unlike most of the other constellations, the star’s name normally is a description of a part of the figure that the constellation represents. In this instance, it does not. References to Alpha Pavonis’s inherited proper name is definitely American. Being the 46th bright star in the sky, in a particularly solitary and lonely place in the sky, the star really deserves a better name, than this seemingly ‘trumped-up’ version. Perhaps, in this instance, it should be called Apavo or, which I simply adore, Pavlova!

Pavo is a peculiar constellation, because no other star in the entire constellation has been given a proper name, but that’s not that unusual. A total of twenty other southern constellations have no names for any of the bright stars they contain! These include the constellations Antlia, Apus, Ara, Caelum, Chameleon, Circinus, Corona Australis, Fornax, Horologium, Hydrus, Mensa, Microscopium, Musca, Octans, Pictor, Pyxis, Reticulum, Telescopium, Toucana and Volans.

In the Top 100 of stellar magnitudes, similar problems exist. Most are yet to be given a proper name. They include;

* 28th brightest Epsilon Carinae.
* 41st brightest Delta Velorum.
* 55th brightest Lambda Velorum.
* 61st brightest Beta Grus.
* 72nd brightest Gamma Centauri.
* 84th brightest Epsilon Centauri.

N.B. (Epsilon Centauri points towards Omega Centauri)

Perhaps Epsilon Carinae and Delta Velorum in this group really deserves a decent proper name, if only because of their brightnesses. Two of these stars listed above lie in the False Cross containing Delta and Kappa Velorum, along with Epsilion and Iota Carinae. All these stars have never had given names!

The americanised nomenclature when applied to the Top 100 becomes specifically; Epcar, Develor, Lavelor, Begrus, Gacent, Epcent. Omega Centauri would be Omecent, while Kappa Velorum becomes Kavel or Kavelor, and Iota Carinae becomes Icar or Iotacar.

[Note: If this type of nomenclature is extended to all southern constellation, carte blanche, we end up with star names like;
Amusca, Behyis, Bemusca, Acham, Amen (Alpha Mensa), Amicro (a petrol company?).
Others would be, and you can guess them, Alteleos, Etacar, Depictor, Gaoctan, Garet, Acoraus, Behoro, Devolan or Zemusca.]

Why should we bother naming these stars?

I believe, after teaching astronomy classes over the last decade, that the naming of stars in the sky is important. They set out to find regions of the unfamiliar constellations for the astronomically uninitiated. The naming of stars should naturally have some degree of romance, instead of the cold science that astronomy sometimes normally capitulates. People while learning the stars, will often ask, “What star is that?” Any proper name at least gives them a appropriate head start. It also makes the subject of astronomy interesting! To give a good example. When I describe the stars in the constellation of Crux, I point out Acrux, then Mimosa, Gacrux, Delta Crucis then Epsilon Crucis. The terrible syntax gap is plainly obvious. I once taught a class of 11 year-old children some years ago.

What are the names of the stars in the Southern Cross?”, one child asked.

Now, you try to describe to them Delta and Epsilon Crucis by their designated Greek letters and genitives! Is this important for school children? Yes! They see it everyday on the Australian Flag!

The most entertaining proposal that I can think of, is the naming of the four brightest stars of Crux (Alpha to Delta), as Baron Alexander von Humboldt first pointed out, based on the four cardinal virtues of Justice, Prudence, Fortitude and Temperance. In terms of Acrux, Becrux and Gacrux and Delta Crucis, our northern hemisphere counterparts could learn from these Humboldt star names. When directed to our American astronomical counterparts, these ‘new’ names could be well justified.

The name for Epsilon Crucis in Humboldt’s scheme?
I’ll leave that to you.

Any suggestions or comments on common star names should be sent in a letter to the Editor, for publishing. (I’ll make sure I get a copy of it as well!) Meanwhile, an inquisitive letter has just been sent to the particular I.A.U. Commission about information on the proper names used for the bright southern stars. I’ll report the response to these Pages if I ever get the reply.

An apt conclusion to this text is a quotation from the very last line at the end of Dante’s ‘Inferno’, which is particularly suited to the gist of this tome;

Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars.

I’ll say no more.

Andrew James
09th February 2005.

Postscript : The Selling of Stars

It is unlawful to rename or sell star names, unless it’s approved officially by the I.A.U. Some of these charlatans have dared to have “sold” stars, usually naming them after the individual who bought it. The brighter the star, the higher the price. These tricksters play on the human emotions regarding immortality, presumably because your name will be eternally emblazed in the sky forever. I feel quite passionate about this subject as I have been approached a number of times to find stars that have been designated to individuals. Some of the circumstances can be very sad. One example is of a boy who sadly was killed in a traffic accident - so to help with their persoanl grief they bought a star so he could be always remebered.

For me it is funny how people view their world. Those with spritual beliefs for example often think that the sky beyond the Earth is ‘Heaven’ when in reality the presumed world after death is actually a metaphysical idea base on some religious dogma. The stars are like us far distant from this metaphysical world where God or gods are mainfest in their personal distant realities. Furthermore, most still cling to the old ideas that the stars are eternal, when in fact they are moral like the rest of us. No doubt the same stars will be there long after the human race has disappeared from Earth - either by its self-destructiveness or by the Sun making the Earth’s surface uninhabitable for life in several billions years to come. The stars being eternal is an Aristolean idea when the world and Universe was a mystery where a star’s light production was not understood.

More often than not, the selected stars are quite faint and require a sizable telescope to see them. Once purchased the customer wants to look at the star in he sky - often disappointing them in the difficulty to find and how faint the star really is. The star which they have sort for comfort so reflects the insignificance of themselves or their departed loved one which no doubt exacerbates their remorse feelings. A feel a bit morbid in seeing these decent people exploited this way - especially in such tragic circumstances - but I am willing to help only to perhaps help those left behind deal with their sadness.

In recent times, however, the trend is that astronomical institutions have joined this common practices as well. This follows the practice; “If you can’t beat them join them!” In my own opinion I really am against this practice. All it does is legitamise the process instead of stamping it out all together. No only is it inane and simple stupid in has no real meaning for an individual - except exploitation. In my opinion the legitimate bodies are far worst than the dodgey ones beause they should know better.

Of course, the explaination for the costs incurred is to produce the documentation. Often you get an ‘official’ certificate with your own star which cost only a few cents which is boosted after you shelling-out anything between $10 up to $100; so the proprietor makes an exorbitantly outrageous huge profit. Often it names the star catalogue number and some details such as brightness and even spectral type (colour) and a small map of the region. What people should realise is that they could do this themselves without any expense. Simply pick a star and what you do with it is then up to you! FREELY!

In the real world of the IAU controls of astronomy, this also does not mean that star names cannot be added or changed. The I.A.U. is fortunately a highly democratic body. If many responses to a particularly favoured name is suggested and they become commonly used, they could be submitted for ratification and changed.

Fellow amateurs. Any ideas or comments?


Last Update : 29th October 2005

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