Stars named after people
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Over the past few centuries, a small number of stars have been named after individual people. It is common in astronomy for objects to be given names, in accordance with accepted astronomical naming conventions. However, most stars are not given proper names, relying on either long-standing traditional names (usually from the Arabic), or catalogue numbers.
The naming of astronomical bodies is controlled by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which normally names features on planetary surfaces after people, and then lays down strict standards for this naming – craters on Mercury, for example, are named after "famous deceased artists, musicians, painters and authors". However, the right of choosing names for asteroids is given to the discoverer, pending IAU approval. This tends to produce an idiosyncratic collection of names – whilst many are named after mythological figures, or prominent astronomers, many more are named after popular musicians, obscure historical figures, or personal friends of the discoverer.
The IAU does not name stars, and has no intention of doing so; proper names are rarely if ever used by professional astronomers, and so there is no need for them to. Whilst many private companies will offer the "right" to name a star, for a fee, they have no legal standing to assign any star a name, and can offer no guarantee of the name being noted.
Leaving aside these attempts, the stars named after individuals fall broadly into two groups. The first group, mostly older stars, are those named openly for an individual connected with them in some way. The second, somewhat more obscurely, are those named after an individual but without explicitly making this clear.
Openly named stars
There is a small group of stars whose common names honour individuals. Many of these were highly significant in some way when discovered, usually through having some unusual characteristic.
- Baade's Star, as the Crab Pulsar is sometimes known. Named for Walter Baade who first positively associated this star with the Crab Nebula.
- Barnard's Star, is a small red dwarf named after E. E. Barnard, who discovered it in 1916, the star with the highest known proper motion.
- Bessel's Star, more renowned under its usual name 61 Cygni, was for a short time the nearest star whose distance was accurately known, its distance measured by Friedrich Bessel in 1838. This star is also called Piazzi's Flying Star, since Giuseppe Piazzi appointed it as a good candidate for distance measurements (parallaxes).
- Van Biesbroeck's Star or VB 10 is a very small, faint, red dwarf named after George Van Biesbroeck, who discovered it in 1944 – the smallest and faintest star then known.
- Cayrel's Star is an ultra-metal-poor halo star named after the French astronomer Roger Cayrel.
- Cor Caroli (α Canum Venaticorum), although only 3rd magnitude, is the brightest star in the modern constellation Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs). Cor Caroli, originally Cor Caroli Regis Martyris, which is Latin for "Heart of Charles", was named in honor of King Charles I of England who was executed in the aftermath of the Second English Civil War.
- Herschel's Garnet Star, also known as Mu Cephei, is a red supergiant particularly remarkable for its deep red color, first described by William Herschel.
- R Leporis is a long-period variable star, sometimes known as Hind's Crimson Star after the discoverer John Russell Hind. It is one of the reddest stars visible.
- Innes' Star, better known as LHS 40, this is a high proper motion star named after the discoverer of Proxima Centauri. In 1930 Luyten listed this as the fifth closest star system, but his belief was mistaken as it turned out to be 41 light years away.
- Kapteyn's Star, a subdwarf, was discovered in 1897 by Jacobus Kapteyn, the star with the highest known proper motion at the time of its discovery.
- Krzeminski's Star is a blue supergiant, part of the pulsar Centaurus X-3, discovered by the Polish astronomer Wojcech Krzemiński in 1974.
- Luyten's Star, another red dwarf, is named after Willem Jacob Luyten, its discoverer.
- Van Maanen's Star is a white dwarf, discovered in 1917 by Adriaan van Maanen, only the second white dwarf discovered.
- Plaskett's star (formal name HR 2422 Monocerotis) is one of the most massive binary stars known, with a total mass of about one hundred times that of the Sun. It is named after John Stanley Plaskett, the Canadian astronomer who discovered its binary nature in 1922.
- Przybylski's Star (also called HD 101065) is a star that shows unusually high abundance of lanthanide elements in its spectral lines.
- Teegarden's Star is the most recent example, a nearby star discovered in 2003 in archived data taken years earlier for NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Tracking program. The star is named in honor of Bonnard J. Teegarden, the NASA astrophysicist that led the discovery team.
- SN 1604, a supernova, was known as Kepler's Star when first observed, after Johannes Kepler, although he had not discovered it; he simply studied it extensively.
- Likewise, SN 1572 was known as Tycho's Star, after Tycho Brahe, though he did not have priority of discovery.
In addition, many stars have catalogue names that contain the name of their discoverer. This includes Wolf, Ross, Bradley, Piazzi, Lacaille, Struve, Groombridge, Lalande, Krueger, Mayer, Weisse, Gould, Luyten and others. For example, Wolf 359, discovered by Max Wolf. These are not strictly named after that person, although it may seem that way, but merely given a star designation in the star catalogue in which Wolf published his discoveries.
Covertly named stars
However, some names have been given unofficially, and worked their way into star catalogues and thus to "formal" acceptance.
The earliest noted example was Sualocin and Rotanev (α and β Delphini), two stars which appeared in the Palermo star catalogue of 1814. They were eventually identified as the reversed spelling of Nicolaus Venator, a Latinised name of Nicolò Cacciatore, assistant to the astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi. It is not clear whether Piazzi intended to name the stars after his assistant, or if Cacciatore made the names up himself.
More recently, during the Apollo program, it was common for astronauts to be trained in celestial navigation, and to use a list of naked-eye stars from which to take bearings. As a practical joke, Gus Grissom gave names to three stars on this list — Navi (γ Cassiopeiae), Dnoces (ι Ursae Majoris), and Regor (γ Velorum). The names stuck, and were used through the rest of the program. Unknown to Grissom, these stars already had traditional names; however, those were not generally used, allowing the three other names to make their way into other records. Today, they are generally considered disused – some sources listing them as "traditional".
The three names are references to the three Apollo 1 crew:
- Navi is Ivan spelled backwards, the middle name of Virgil Ivan "Gus" Grissom.
- Dnoces is Second spelled backwards, alluding to Edward Higgins White, II.
- Regor is Roger spelled backwards, the first name of Roger Bruce Chaffee.
It is possible, though unlikely, that more "traditional" names are in fact hidden names such as these, not yet identified; etymologies for most star names are not currently known.
Commercial "star naming"
International Star Registry and other companies sell "star names" to the public. It is the opinion of many astronomers that such businesses are fraudulent because the names assigned by businesses are not recognised by the International Astronomical Union and have no official status. These companies have been urged to improve the information they provide to customers before purchase and fully disclose the nature of what they are buying.