Stellar Sailors

A “spooky” star is one of the highlights of the Halloween sky. The star is in Perseus, the hero, which is in the east as night falls. It consists of three stars. As seen from Earth, two of the stars periodically eclipse each other. So every three days or so, the system gets much fainter. Ancient skywatchers found this a bit frightening, so they named the star Ra’s Al-Ghul — the head of the ghoul. Today, it’s known by a shorter version of the name: Algol, the Demon Star.

The U.S. Navy liked that name so much that it bestowed it on a class of cargo ships. All the members of the class are named for bright stars, including Antares, Capella, and Algol itself.

Star names have been popular in many settings. The names convey beauty, power, and perhaps a bit of mystery. So cars have been named for Vega and the constellation Taurus, among others. Many airliners have borne star names as well, including Hokule’a and Nahiku — Hawaiian names for the star Arcturus and the Big Dipper. And characters in the Harry Potter universe are named for Sirius, Bellatrix, and other stars.

The navy has used many star names, mainly during or after World War II. The names have been bestowed on cargo ships, submarine tenders, and other support craft, as well as research vessels.

Other ships have been named for constellations, with still others named for star patterns that aren’t constellations, such as the Hyades star cluster — bits of the night sky on the high seas.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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