Naming Stars in Different Cultures
While modern astronomers refer to most stars solely by catalog numbers and astronomy coordinates, many people informally name stars using name a star services. In fact, throughout history people from various cultures have used star names of their own choosing: Many civilizations explained their existence through mythological stories passed from generation to generation, and often associated these stories with the stars in the night sky. As we'll see, even a major car company is named after the stars.
To illustrate, let's start with a constellation (an area of the night sky) modern astronomers have named after a character from Greek and Roman mythology - "Orion," the Great Hunter. Orion is one of the most well known and easily-identifiable constellations, and can be seen from just about anywhere on Earth: The best time to view Orion is during the evening hours between roughly December and March. Many classical mythology stories are told about Orion and how he came to be placed in the heavens. One such story is that Orion had no fear of any animal and therefore threatened to exterminate all of the animals of the earth. When Gaia, the goddess of the earth, heard this she became enraged and sent a scorpion to kill Orion. When Orion encountered the scorpion he was unable to kill it, and the scorpion stung Orion and sent him falling to the earth, fatally wounded. In honor of this story, Orion was placed in the night sky as a constellation, as was the scorpion - known as the constellation "Scorpius."
While 21st century astronomers refer to the constellation "Orion" after a hunter from classical mythology, other cultures have had different interpretations of these same stars. One of the distinguishing features of Orion is a line of three, bright stars that form what is called "The Belt of Orion." The ancient Egyptians thought these three bright stars were the resting place of the god Osiris. The Dogon people of West Africa viewed the three stars as the stairway to heaven. These same three stars have been associated with Christmas, viewed as representing the Magi - "The Three Wise Men" (The Three Kings) from the Bible. The people of the Marshall Islands viewed Orion's stars as an octopus and a fisherman: The story told was of a fisherman who was attacked by an octopus. The fisherman defended himself by using a stone to stab the head of the octopus. Although the octopus was wounded he was able to spray his ink, behind which he hid and was able to escape. The Chimu Indians of Peru believed that the middle star of Orion's belt represented a thief or mischief maker that the Moon Goddess punished. The Moon Goddess punished the wrongdoer by sending two stars to capture him and send him to four vultures that would eat him. This mythological story served as a warning for those who would commit crimes.
Another interesting example from classical mythology is related to a beautiful group of stars in the constellation Taurus called "The Pleiades," or "The Seven Sisters." These stars are visible in the evening sky from roughly November through April, and are often confused with "The Little Dipper" (which is in another constellation) as the bright stars of the Pleiades together resemble a very small dipper, or ladle. The story from classical mythology is that Orion, the hunter, became enamored of these seven beautiful ladies, and relentlessly pursued them throughout the world. Taking pity on the young women, Zeus placed them in the heavens where Orion continues to pursue them in the night sky.
Many cultures have also associated the Pleiades with females or femininity. The Australian Aborigines saw this group of stars as a cluster of girls who were musicians. These girls play their instruments for a group of young boys who are represented by the stars seen in Orion's belt. Some Native American tribes viewed the Pleiades as seven mothers who were looking for their seven lost sons: According to the Chumash Indians of California, these seven sons had become the stars of the Big Dipper. The Kiowa Indians saw these stars as young women who were placed in the heavens by the Great Spirit so as to save them from attacking bears. In Norse mythology, they were the hens of Freya, the goddess of love, beauty and fertility. In Japan the Pleiades were known as "Subaru," after which a Japanese car company is named.
Naming stars, then, is an age-old custom that has been practiced by different civilizations around the world.
Related Tags: star, cultures, name
Richard Pickering is an astronomer for Name A Star Live, which lets you express your feelings in a romantic, meaningful way by 'naming a star' for a loved one. While no star-naming service can change the scientific designations of stars, only Name A Star Live makes it real by providing you: Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software; an opportunity to view your star live using an online telescope; and the launch of your star name into space!Your Article Search Directory : Find in Articles
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