Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Welcome to my blog!

When you look up into the sky and see a star, have you thought how it got its name? Or, even whether it has a designation at all?

The very brightest stars have names, like Sirius and Arcturus. Once you get further down the list, stars are designated with Greek letters (e.g. Alpha [α]  Centauri) or numbers (61 Cygni). However, these designations are not always as certain as you would think. Some are ambiguous, and have gradually disappeared. Particularly in the Southern sky, many bright stars have to do without a designation, primarily because most of the astronomers active in cataloguing stars lived in the Northen Hemisphere. Some other useful systems for designating stars that were formerly in use have fallen out of favour. Again, I wonder whether there is a Northern Hemisphere bias at work here.

I've started this blog to talk about the way we designate stars. The average person with a pair of binoculars can see thousands more stars than many famous astronomers of old, yet for various reasons we have less labels to use. My basic manifesto is this:
  1. We need more designations to cover most stars that we can see;
  2. We need simple designations;
  3. We need unambiguous designations;
  4. We need to use the same designations as each other.
In short, all the points above encourage communication. And I think for most of the above points, the astronomical community is in a bit of a rut. We'll need some resurrection of old ideas and some innovation to produce new ideas to make it happen. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

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