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.
- Barnard's Star, is a 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.
- Wolf 1055 AB is also known as Van Biesbroeck's Star after George Van Biesbroeck, who in 1940 detected the faint red dwarf as a companion of the larger, brighter Wolf 1055 A; the system together is Gliese 752.
- 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.
- 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.
- Kapteyn's Star, a subdwarf, was discovered in 1897 by Jacobus Kapteyn, the star with the second highest known proper motion (and the highest 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 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 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 red dwarf discovered by NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Tracking program in 2003, and named after Bonnard Teegarden, a NASA astrophysicist.
- SN 1604, a supernova, was known as Kepler's Star when first observed, after Johannes Kepler - he had not discovered it, but 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 - 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 catalogue in which Wolf published his discoveries.
(Note that Pandora's Star and Ratner's Star are the names of novels, not actual stars)
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 (ε 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:
It is possible, though unlikely, that more "traditional" names are in fact hidden names such as these, not yet identified. However, etymologies for most star names are not currently known.
Commercial "star naming"
There are commercial organisations that 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. Astronomers sometimes do not reveal the truth to the victims of this scam, because stars are usually "named" after emotionally important people such as dead children.