In approximately the 3rd century BC, Timocharis of Alexandria and Aristillus created the first star catalogue in the Western world. Over 150 years later, Hipparchus would compare his own star catalogue to Timocharis' and discover that the longitude of the stars had changed over time, which led him to determine the first value of the precession of the equinoxes. In the 2nd century, Ptolemy published a star catalogue as part of his Almagest, which listed 1,022 stars visible from Alexandria. It was the standard star catalogue in the Western and Arab worlds for over a thousand years. Ptolemy's catalogue was based almost entirely on an earlier one by Hipparchus from the 2nd century BC (Newton 1977; Rawlins 1982).
A large number of star catalogues were published by Muslim astronomers in the medieval Islamic world. These were mainly Zij treatises, including Arzachel's Tables of Toledo (1087), the Maragheh observatory's Zij-i Ilkhani (1272) and Ulugh Beg's Zij-i-Sultani (1437). Other famous Arabic star catalogues include Alfraganus' A compendium of the science of stars (850) which corrected Ptolemy's Almagest; and Azophi's Book of Fixed Stars (964) which described observations of the stars, their positions, magnitudes, brightness and colour, drawings for each constellation, and the first descriptions of Andromeda Galaxy and the Large Magellanic Cloud. Many stars are still known by their Arabic names (see List of Arabic star names).
Two systems introduced in historical catalogues remain in use to the present day. The first system comes from Bayer's Uranometria and is for bright stars. These are given a Greek letter followed by the genitive case of the constellation in which they are located; examples are Alpha Centauri or Gamma Cygni. See Bayer designation for more information. The major problem with Bayer's naming system was the number of letters in the Greek alphabet (24). It was easy to run out of letters before running out of stars needing names, particularly for large constellations such as Argo Navis. Bayer extended his lists up to 67 stars by using lower-case Roman letters ("a" through "z") then upper-case ones ("A" through "Q"). Few of those designations have survived. It is worth mentioning, however, as it served as the starting point for variable star designations, which start with "R" through "Z", then "RR", "RS", "RT"..."RZ", "SS", "ST"..."ZZ" and beyond. See the article for more information.
The second system comes from John Flamsteed's Historia coelestis Britannica. It kept the genitive-of-the-constellation rule for the back end of his catalog names, but used numbers instead of the Greek alphabet for the front half. Examples include 61 Cygni and 47 Ursae Majoris; see Flamsteed designation for more information.
The Henry Draper Catalogue was published in the period 1918–1924. It covers the whole sky down to about ninth or tenth magnitude, and is notable as the first large-scale attempt to catalogue spectral types of stars. The catalogue was compiled by Annie Jump Cannon and her co-workers at Harvard College Observatory under the supervision of Edward Pickering, and was named in honour of Henry Draper, whose widow donated the money required to finance it.
HD numbers are widely used today for stars which have no Bayer or Flamsteed designation. Stars numbered 1–225300 are from the original catalogue and are numbered in order of right ascension for the 1900.0 epoch. Stars in the range 225301–359083 are from the 1949 extension of the catalogue. The notation HDE can be used for stars in this extension, but they are usually denoted HD as the numbering ensures that there can be no ambiguity.
The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory catalogue was compiled from various previous astrometric catalogues, and contains only the stars to about ninth magnitude for which accurate proper motions were known. There is considerable overlap with the Henry Draper catalogue, but any star lacking motion data is omitted. The epoch for the position measurements in the latest edition is J2000.0. The SAO catalogue contains this major piece of information not in Draper, the proper motion of the stars, so it is often used when that fact is of importance. The cross-references with the Draper and Durchmusterung catalogue numbers in the latest edition are also useful.
Names in the SAO catalogue start with the letters SAO, followed by a number. The numbers are assigned following 18 ten-degree bands in the sky, with stars sorted by right ascension within each band.
As it covered only the northern sky and some of the south (being compiled from the Bonn observatory), this was then supplemented by the Südliche Durchmusterung (SD), which covers stars between declinations -1 and -23 degrees (1886, 120,000 stars). It was further supplemented by the Cordoba Durchmusterung (580,000 stars), which began to be compiled at Córdoba, Argentina in 1892 under the initiative of John M. Thome and covers declinations -22 to -90. Lastly, the Cape Photographic Durchmusterung (450,000 stars, 1896), compiled at the Cape, South Africa, covers declinations -18 to -90.
Astronomers preferentially use the HD designation of a star, as that catalogue also gives spectroscopic information, but as the Durchmusterungs cover more stars they occasionally fall back on the older designations when dealing with one not found in Draper. Unfortunately, a lot of catalogues cross-reference the Durchmusterungs without specifying which one is used in the zones of overlap, so some confusion often remains.
Star names from these catalogues include the initials of which of the four catalogues they are from (though the Southern follows the example of the Bonner and uses BD; CPD is often shortened to CP), followed by the angle of declination of the star (rounded towards zero, and thus ranging from +00 to +89 and -00 to -89), followed by an arbitrary number as there are always thousands of stars at each angle. Examples include BD+50°1725 or CD-45°13677.
The Catalogue astrographique (Astrographic Catalogue) was part of the international Carte du Ciel programme designed to photograph and measure the positions of all stars brighter than magnitude 11.0. In total, over 4.6 million stars were observed, many as faint as 13th magnitude. This project was started in the late 1800s. The observations were made between 1891 and 1950. To observe the entire celestial sphere without burdening only a handful of institutions, the sky was divided among 20 observatories, by declination zones. Each observatory exposed and measured the plates of its zone, using a standardized telescope (a "normal astrograph") so each plate photographed had a similar scale of approximately 60 arcsecs/mm. The U.S. Naval Observatory took over custody of the catalogue, now in its 2000.2 edition.
USNO-B1.0 is an all-sky catalog created by researchers at the U.S. Naval Observatory that presents positions, proper motions, magnitudes in various optical passbands, and star/galaxy estimators for 1,042,618,261 objects derived from 3,643,201,733 separate observations. The data were obtained from scans of 7,435 Schmidt plates taken for the various sky surveys during the last 50 years. USNO-B1.0 is believed to provide all-sky coverage, completeness down to V = 21, 0.2 arcsecond astrometric accuracy at J2000.0, 0.3 magnitude photometric accuracy in up to five colors, and 85% accuracy for distinguishing stars from non-stellar objects.
This lists 17,180 double stars north of declination -30 degrees.
First published in 1930 as the Yale Catalog of Bright Stars, this catalog contained information on all stars brighter than visual magnitude 6.5 in the Harvard Revised Photometry Catalogue. The list was revised in 1983 with the publication of a supplement that listed additional stars down to magnitude 7.1. The catalog detailed each star's coordinates, proper motions, photometric data, spectral types, and other useful information.
The last printed version of the Bright Star Catalogue was the 4th revised edition, released in 1982. The 5th edition is in electronic form and is available online.
The Gliese (later Gliese-Jahreiß) catalogue attempts to list all stars within 20 parsecs of Earth ordered by right ascension (see the List of nearest stars). Later editions expanded the coverage to 25 parsecs. Numbers in the range 1.0–965.0 (Gl numbers) are from the second edition, which was
The integers up to 915 represent stars which were in the first edition. Numbers with a decimal point were used to insert new stars for the second edition without destroying the desired order (by right ascension). This catalogue is referred to as CNS2, although this name is never used in catalogue numbers.
Numbers in the range 9001–9850 (Wo numbers) are from the supplement
Numbers in the ranges 1000–1294 and 2001–2159 (GJ numbers) are from the supplement
The range 1000–1294 represents nearby stars, while 2001–2159 represents suspected nearby stars. In the literature, the GJ numbers are sometimes retroactively extended to the Gl numbers (since there is no overlap). For example, Gliese 436 can be interchangeably referred to as either Gl 436 or GJ 436.
Numbers in the range 3001–4388 are from
Although this version of the catalogue was termed "preliminary", it is still the current one as of March 2006, and is referred to as CNS3. It lists a total of 3,803 stars. Most of these stars already had GJ numbers, but there were also 1,388 which were not numbered (plus the Sun, which needs no number). The need to give these 1,388 some name has resulted in them being numbered 3001–4388 (NN numbers, for "no name"), and data files of this catalogue now usually include these numbers. An example of a star which is often referred to by one of these unofficial GJ numbers is GJ 3021.
The General Catalogue of Trigonometric Parallaxes, first published in 1952 and later superseded by the New GCTP (now in its fourth edition), covers nearly 9,000 stars. Unlike the Gliese, it does not cut off at a given distance from the Sun; rather it attempts to catalogue all known measured parallaxes. It gives the co-ordinates in 1900 epoch, the secular variation, the proper motion, the weighted average absolute parallax and its standard error, the number of parallax observations, quality of interagreement of the different values, the visual magnitude and various cross-identifications with other catalogues. Auxiliary information, including UBV photometry, MK spectral types, data on the variability and binary nature of the stars, orbits when available, and miscellaneous information to aid in determining the reliability of the data are also listed.
The Hipparcos catalogue was compiled from the data gathered by the European Space Agency's astrometric satellite Hipparcos, which was operational from 1989 to 1993. The catalogue was published in June 1997 and contains 118,218 stars. It is particularly notable for its parallax measurements, which are considerably more accurate than those produced by ground-based observations.
Willem Jacob Luyten later produced a series of catalogues:
L - Luyten, Proper motion stars and White dwarfs
LFT - Luyten Five-Tenths catalogue
LHS - Luyten Half-Second catalogue
LTT - Luyten Two-Tenths catalogue
LPM - Luyten Proper-Motion catalogue
Later, Henry Lee Giclas took over, again with a series of catalogues: