Stars named after people
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 star catalogue numbers.
The naming of astronomical bodies is controlled by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which lays down strict standards for this naming.
In July 2014 the IAU launched a process for giving proper names to exoplanets and their host stars, the outcome of which was announced in December 2015. As a result, the IAU approved the names Cervantes (honoring the writer Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra) and Copernicus (honoring the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus) for the stars Mu Arae and 55 Cancri A, respectively.
In 2016, the IAU organized a Working Group on Star Names (WGSN) which will catalog cultural and historical names for bright stars to help preserve astronomical world heritage, and maintain a catalog of IAU-approved unique proper names for stars. The WGSN's first bulletin of July 2016 set out its terms of reference and naming guidelines. All approved names are included on the current IAU Catalog of Star Names, last updated on 1 February 2017. The IAU approved the name Cor Caroli (Latin for 'heart of Charles') for the star Alpha Canum Venaticorum, so named in honour of King Charles I of England by Sir Charles Scarborough, his physician. The IAU also approved the historical name of Barnard's Star, named after the American astronomer E. E. Barnard.
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. The IAU does not recognize this practice and its website uses the word charlatanry in this context.
Apart from the few formally approved by the IAU, and leaving aside commercial attempts, 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.
- Argelander's Star is Groombridge 1830, a high proper motion star. Named for Friedrich Wilhelm Argelander, who discovered its high proper motion in 1842.
- Argelander's second star is Lalande 21185, a nearby red dwarf star. Named also for Argelander, who discovered its high proper motion in 1857.
- Barnard's Star, named for its discoverer, the American astronomer E. E. Barnard. The fourth closest star to the solar system, it also has the highest known proper motion of any star.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Krzeminski's Star is a blue supergiant, part of the pulsar Centaurus X-3, discovered by the Polish astronomer Wojciech 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) 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.
- Sakurai's Object (also called V4334 Sgr) is an unusual red giant, named after Yukio Sakurai.
- Scholz's Star is a late-M dwarf + T-type brown dwarf (M9.5 + T5) system, discovered in 2013 by Ralf-Dieter Scholz. It has large parallax, but relatively small proper motion, and it is known for its close flyby to the Sun about 70000 years ago.
- Sneden's Star is a giant star, named after Chris Sneden. The star is known for its high-resolution spectroscopic observations.
- Tabby's Star (or Boyajian's Star), KIC 8462852, is an F-type main-sequence star with a highly unusual light curve in the constellation Cygnus named after Tabetha S. Boyajian; its peculiar characteristics engendered speculation that a Dyson sphere of an extraterrestrial civilization had been discovered.
- Teegarden's Star, 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 1572 is known as Tycho's Star, after Tycho Brahe, though he did not have priority of discovery.
In addition, many stars have catalogue designations that contain the name of their compiler. 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 informal 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.
- "NameExoWorlds: An IAU Worldwide Contest to Name Exoplanets and their Host Stars" (Press release). IAU.org. 9 July 2014.
- "Final Results of NameExoWorlds Public Vote Released" (Press release). IAU.org. 15 December 2015.
- NameExoWorlds The Approved Names
- "IAU Working Group on Star Names (WGSN)". Retrieved 22 May 2016.
- "Bulletin of the IAU Working Group on Star Names, No. 1" (PDF). Retrieved 28 July 2016.
- "IAU Catalog of Star Names". Retrieved 12 October 2016.
- R.H. Allen, Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning.
- Robert Burnham, Jr. Burnham's Celestial Handbook, Volume 1, p. 359.
- Ian Ridpath: "Star Tales", Canes Venatici. See also Deborah J. Warner, The Sky Explored: Celestial Cartography 1500-1800.
- "Buying Stars and Star Names". IAU. Retrieved 10 September 2015.