By Peter Becker
What star is that? Why is it we always need a name? Somehow names are important to all of us. We naturally feel more of a connection when we know what the type of tree in our backyard is called or the species of a bird at our feeder. The same goes with stars, but it is not the type we are asking, but the name, like Candice, Lovey, Penny, Luke, Hannah or Felicity.
Hundreds of stars have names, particularly those visible to unaided eyes which the ancients chose to signify. Obviously there are so many stars out there, we can’t very well give them all appellations. Alas, most of them are seen only by telescope and only have numbers in some database. These numbers are usually followed by sky coordinates used to plot the star on a chart. It’s not because they are loved any less that they lack the colorful names of their brighter cousins!
The ancient Greeks, Samaritans and Arabians gave us many of the names we still recognize.
Here’s a few stars visible in the spring early evening sky, which are named, along with their meaning, according to Field Book of the Skies by William T. Olcott. Following the name is another designation, a Greek letter followed by a form of the star’s constellation name- another way the brighter stars have been catalogued.
• Acubens, Alpha Cancri, the "claws" of the Crab.
•Algeiba, Gamma Leonis, the "mane" of the Lion.
• Alphard, Alpha Hydrae, is the "solitary one of the serpent," the only fairly bright star in the very long constellation, Hydra the Serpent. Alphard is visible about half way up in the south. Look to the upper right for a compact group of stars marking the head of this slithery celestial water snake! We hope you keep reading. No more snakes or serpents here...
• Arcturus Alpha Bootis, is a marvelously, orange star seen at this time in the east. The name means "bear keeper" and is the brightest in the constellation Bootes the Herdsman.
• Castor, Alpha Geminorum, the "horseman of the twins," is the upper of the two bright stars marking the heads of Gemini the Twins, as seen on a spring evening, high in the south-southwest. This well known double star shines bright white.
• Cor Coroli, Alpha Canum Venaticorum, is the "heart of Charles II. Canes Venatici, or the "hunting dogs" is basically two stars, a small constellation just under the Big Dipper’s handle (to the right as seen on a spring evening). Cor Coroli is the brighter of the pair. This star was named by Sir Charles Scarborough (1615-1694) in memory of King Charles I, the deposed king of Britain.
• Dubhe, Alpha Ursae Majoris, is a the top star in the bowl of the Big Dipper, pointing to the North Star. Dubhe is distinctly yellow, especially when viewed with binoculars or a telescope.
• Pollux, Beta Geminorum, is the lower of the two bright stars marking the heads of Gemini the Twins, seen high in the south-southwest. Pollux glows orange.
• Procyon, Alpha Canis Minoris, the "foremost dog." This lovely, bright yellow star is seen about half way up in the south- southwest, and is the brightest of two main stars makingup Canis Minor, the Lesser Dog (puppy).
• Regulus, Alpha Leonis, is Latin for "prince." This regal, bluish-white star is the brightest in the constellation Leo the Lion, at the lower end of what looks like a large, backward question mark of stars, better known as the "Sickle." These stars make up the Lion’s head and front.
• Spica, Alpha Virginis, is the "ear of wheat or corn" and is pictured as held in Virgo the Virgin’s left hand. The brilliant white star is visible low in the southeast on early spring evenings.
• Yildun, Delta Ursa Minoris, is seen as greenish by some. This dim star is in the tail of the Little Dipper.
• Zosma, Delta Leonis, means "girdle" and marks the beginning of the tail of Leo the Lion. It is pale yellow.
A couple useful web sites listing and explaining star names include www.astro.uiuc.edu and www.naic.edu.
Perhaps if you are expecting a baby, you will find a suggestion for a name! Or- how about naming those kittens or puppies?
Full quarter Moon is on March 27.
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Keep looking up!