Friday, August 6, 2010

Gould Numbers

John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, assigned numbers (known as Flamsteed numbers) to bright stars in each constellation, but he did so only for stars that he could see from London. Because of this, there are no Flamsteed number assigned within about 65 degrees of the South Celestial pole.

Benjamin Gould later did for the Southern Hemisphere what John Flamsteed did for the North. In his Uranometria Argentina (1879), he numbered thousands of stars south of +10 degrees N. Several of these have been in use ever since (think 82 G. Eridani), and they can be distinguished from Flamsteed numbers by the character G that follows the number. Though as you will see by the link to 82 Eri above, often the G somehow disappears!

In recent times the Uranometria Argentina hasn't been widely available, but that has all changed. Frederick Pilcher has transcribed the entire catalogue and published it at Wikipedia is also slowly being updated to include these designations.

So next time you're tempted to use a long catalogue number for an 'unnamed' star in the far south, check Gould's catalogue first.

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