Sunday, 23 July 2017


After looking at the constellations last time, the research kept brinign me names of some of the best known stars in the night sky. Mythology plays a large role.

Achenar - found in the constellation of Eridamus, this is an Anglicised version of the original Arabic name of akhir an-nahr or 'river's end', while the Chinese know it as Shui Wei 'crooked running water'. It is actually a binary system, lies 139 light-years away, and is the tenth brightest star in the sky when viewed from Earth.

Altair - found in the constellation of Aquila, the Arabic name of an-nasr at-ta'ir means 'the flying eagle' while the Chinese Qian Niu Xing describes it as 'the cow herder star'. One of the closest stars visible to the naked eye at just 16.7 light-years distant, it rotates in a little under nine hours (compared to our sun's 25 days) giving it a flattened appearance, indeed the diameter at the equator is 20% greater than the diameter when measured through the poles.

Aldeberan - in the constellation of Taurus the Arabic al-dabaran means 'the follower', in relation to the Pleiades, in Indian astronomy it's Rohini 'the red one', while the Chinese describe it as Bixiuwu 'the fifth star of the net'. Ranked as the fourteenth brightest star when viewed from Earth, it is 65 light-years away, and may have a planet orbiting every 643 days and around eleven times the mass of Jupiter.

Antares - part of the constellation of Scorpius, this comes from Ancient Greek for 'against Ares', he the Greek version of the Roman god Mars. Babylonians knew it as 'the breast of the scorpion', in Arabic 'the heart of the scorpion', and other ancient cultures gave it names meaning 'the lord of the seed', 'the creator of prosperity', 'the king', 'the hero and the king', 'the vermilion star' and, to the Chinese xin suer 'second brightest'. It ranks as the fifteenth brightest star in the night sky, is 550 light-years from Earth, and has a diameter 1,766 times that of our sun.

Arcturus - is the brightest star in the constellation Bootes. It is 36.7 light-years from our sun and more than 25 times the size. This is its Greek name, this meaning 'the guardian of the bear', the Arabic name of al-simak meant 'the uplifted one', while Indian astronomers refer to it as Swati 'the horned one', the Japanese catalogue gives Mugi-boshi 'star of wheat', and in China Dajiao 'great horn'.

Betelgeuse - in the constellation of Orion this star is modern astronomers best bet to go supernova, it could happen at any time in the next million years apparently. A red supergiant it is one of the largest and brightest stars visible to the naked eye and has a distinctly red appearance. Its name comes from Arabic Ibt al-Jauza 'the axilla of Orion', with other names including Persian Basn 'the arm', Coptic Klaria 'an armlet', Tahitian Ana-varu 'the pillar to sit by', the Lacandon people of Central America knew it as chak tulix 'red butterfly', and the best of the all from the Chinese Shenxiusi 'the fourth star of the constellation of three stars'.

Canopus - named after a pilot of Greek mythology, the navigator fopr Memelaus, king of Sparta whose name is of uncertain etymology. It is the second brightest star in the night sky, approximately 320 light-years away, and in 480,000 years will become the brightest. Egptian Coptic knows this as Kahi Nub 'the golden earth', in Japan it is Roujin-sei 'the old man star', which is not as good as the name by which those on the Society Islands know this where Taura-e-tupu--tai-nanu means 'festivity whence comes the flux of the sea'.

Capella - is 24 times the diameter of our sun and 43 light-years distant. Its name is the Latin for 'small female goat', in Arabic it is Al-RakibJastreb
'the hawk', Chines Wu che 'five chariots', Hawaii Ke ka o Makali'i 'the canoe bailer of Makali'i', and to the Australian Boorang people Purra 'the kangaroo'.

Centaurus - some 390 light-years from us, it derives its name from the mythological centaur and a name first applied to a savage tribe of horsemen from Thessaly. Other names include the Arabic Agena 'knees', Chinese ma fu yi 'first star of the horse's abdomen', while the Boorang people of Australia know it as Tchingal 'the emu'.

Deneb - the 19th brightest star in the sky and 800 light-years away in the constellation of Cygnus. Its name simply means 'tail', although others know it differently. In Germany Uropygium 'the parson's nose', and to the Chines Tian Jin Si 'the fourth star of the celestial ford'. Around the year 9800 Deneb will become the new pole star as viewed from Earth.

Fomalhaut - a part of the constellation of Pisces, some 25 light-years from us, and the third brightest star in our skies. This name is from the Arabic fum al-hawt or 'mouth of the fish', although the Persians knew it as Haftorang Watcher of the south, to the Chinese it is Beiluoshimen 'north gate of the military camp', and to the Wardaman people of Australia's northern territory Menggen 'the white cockatoo'.

Polaris - at a distance of 433 light-years, this is the Latin for 'pole star' and known to the Saxons as scip-steorra 'the ship star', both named for this aid to navigation. To the Hindus it was Puranas 'immovable, fixed'; to the Greeks Cynosura 'the dog's tail'; and in Arabic al-katb al-shamaliyy 'the northern axle'.

Pollux - in the constellation of Gemini this is, with Castor, one of those heavenly twins. Some 34 light-years from Earth, this is the closest star to the sun to be classified as a giant. In Arabic it is Muekher al Dzira 'the end in the paw' and to the Chines Bei He 'the north river'.

Procyon - is from the Greek meaning 'preceding the dog', a reference to Sirius. It is the eighth brightest star in the night sky, although correctly it is actually three stars, and a distance of about 12 light-years from us. To the Babylonians this was Nangar 'the carpenter'; Arabic as-si'ra as-samiyah 'the Syrian sign' or al-ghumaisa 'the bleary-eyed woman'; and to the Chinese nanhesan 'third star in the south of the river'.

Rigel - the seventh brightest star visible from Earth is 863 light-years away and part of the constellation of Orion. The Arabic version was Rijl Jauzah al Yusra or 'the left leg of Jauzah', the personal name their interpretation of the figure known as Orion the Hunter; the Wardaman people of Australia call it Unumburrgu 'the red kangaroo leader'; the Watjobaluk people of Australia call it Yerrerdet-kurrk 'mother-in-law'; the Chinese know it as Shenxiu Qi 'the seventh star of the three star system'; and the Japanese Gin-waki 'the silver star'.

Sirius - the brightest star in the sky, also known as the Dog Star, it is a little over 8 light-years distant and part of the constellation of Canis Major. To the Greeks it was Seirios 'the scorcher'; Sanskrit Mrgavadha 'deer hunter'; to the Norsemen it was Lokabrenna 'burning done by Loki'; and the tribes of North American knew it as 'wolf star', 'coyote star' and .moon dog'.

Spica - the 16th brightest star in the sky, 250 light-years from Earth, and found in the constellation Virgo. Its name comes from Latin spica virginis 'the virgin's ear of grain'; alternatives include Arabic al-simak al-a'z'ai 'the undefended'; and in Indian astronomy Chitra 'the bright one'.

Vega - the fifth brightest star in the sky is 25 light-years away in the constellation of Lyra. Some 14,000 years ago it was the pole star and, if you can hang around a bit, will reclaim that position in the year 13,727. Its name is Arabic, from an-nasr al-waqi or 'the alighting vulture'; while the Chinese know it as Zhi Nu or 'weaving girl' in the Qi Xi love story; the Assyrians called it Dayan-sane 'the judge of heaven'; the Babylonians Dilgan 'messenger of light'; in Zoroastrianism it is Vanat 'the conquor'; and to the Boorong people of Australia Neilloan 'the flying loan'.

Spellings used are English as it is written in English.

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