Looking Up: A Celestial Object By Any Other Name...

Jun 24, 2019

The larger of the spiral galaxies, known as UGC 1810, has a disk that is tidally distorted into a rose-like shape by the gravitational tidal pull of the companion galaxy below it, known as UGC 1813. A swath of blue jewels across the top is the combined light from clusters of intensely bright and hot young blue stars.
Credit NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) / nasa.gov

Would any given astronomical object still look as cool if it had a different name? Bruce Bookout delves into that very subject on this week's Looking Up.

I was once asked at a local star party; how do we know the names of things in the sky?  The answer is simple – someone named it. 

Astronomical naming conventions depend on the object. Many bright stars have proper names that have been passed down since ancient times and vary by culture.  Some stellar catalogues use the Bayer designation, where the brightest star in a constellation is named alpha and then the constellation’s possessive form.  Alpha Scorpii is the Bayer designation for Antares, the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius. Stars have multiple designations due to how they are measured in that catalogue. Don’t get me started on pulsars, blackholes, novae and supernovae.

Planets have been named after classical mythology. Exoplanets, so far, have no agreed system for their names. Naming of moons follows odd conventions depending on the planet, such as Uranus’ moons named after Shakespearian characters.  

This image is from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and was their 2004 Valentine's Day release (the "cosmic rose"). More information is available at: http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/Media/releases/ssc2004-02/release.shtml
Credit public domain / wikimedia commons

If you want something named after yourself, discover a comet or a minor planet, you have 10 years to submit a name for that object. It’s one way to feed an astronomical ego.

If you’d like to take a closer look at astronomical names, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit csastro.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties.