You are here

Star Names

September 14, 2013

Many of the night sky’s bright stars bear ancient and beautiful names. Most of the names are Greek, Latin, or Arabic. They refer to the stars’ mythology, their location in the sky, or other special traits.

Some examples spread out around the gibbous Moon this evening.

High above the Moon, there’s Altair, the brightest star of Aquila, the eagle. The name comes from an Arabic phrase that means “the flying eagle” — the name for the entire constellation.

Sagittarius is to the lower right of the Moon. Eight of its stars form a large teapot, with the handle on the left and the spout on the right.

The constellation’s brightest star, at the lower right corner of the teapot, is Kaus Australis — a name that combines Arabic and Latin. In mythology, Sagittarius was known as the archer — he was a centaur holding a bow and arrow. The word Kaus is Arabic for “bow,” while Australis is Latin for “southern.” Put them together, and they tell us that Kaus Australis represents the southern tip of the archer’s bow.

And well to the right of Kaus Australis is Antares, the heart of the celestial scorpion. The star is bright and orange, so it closely resembles the planet Mars, which sometimes passes near it. So the ancient Greek skywatchers named it for the planet. Ant means “similar to” or “rival of,” and Ares is the Greek version of Mars. Put them together, and Antares is the rival of Mars — and a part of the rich lexicon of astronomy.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013

Get Premium Audio

Listen to today's episode of StarDate on the web the same day it airs in high-quality streaming audio without any extra ads or announcements. Choose a $8 one-month pass, or listen every day for a year for just $30.