Name Game

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Name Game

You don’t have to be an expert on the night sky to recognize the famous names of some bright stars. There’s brilliant Vega, in the constellation Lyra, which is in the east-northeast as night falls; and Deneb, the tail of Cygnus, the swan, to its lower left. Regulus, the heart of Leo, the lion, is to the lower right of the Moon, with Pollux and Castor, the twins of Gemini, low in the west-northwest.

Many other star names aren’t so well known — even to professional astronomers. That’s because quite a few of the names are new. So in the same constellations as those famous stars, we also have Chason, Fawaris, Shama, and Jishui — stars named in just the last few years.

Most of the proper names of the stars date back thousands of years. But only bright stars got those names. More recently, astronomers devised new naming systems using the Greek alphabet, numbers, and other schemes. But most stars only have catalog designations — numbers that usually signify their position in the sky.

But in the last decade, the International Astronomical Union started bestowing new names, taken from various cultures around the globe. Chason, for example, is a Slovakian name for the Sun. Fawaris comes from an Arabic phrase meaning “the riders,” which applied to a small group of stars. Shama is an Urdu word for a small lamp or flame. And Jishui is a traditional Chinese name for the star — a name both old and new for a star near the twins.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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