Astronomy Star Names

Ancient Greece didn't have the technology we have today. This fact is even more apparent when looking at the advances we have made in astronomy. Keep in mind; the Greeks lived before Hubble, Copernicus, and Galileo. For all of our advancements, though, we are still looking at the exact same night sky our ancient forefathers gazed upon thousands of years ago.

The Greeks surely saw that the heavens were alive with brilliant, shimmering light. Such beauty must have a story behind it, thought the Greeks, and since there was no way to understand that these flickers were in fact enormous balls of gaseous material, the Greeks gave these stars human qualities.

Today in astronomy star names are given names that help to identify them. While useful, names like HIC 91262 and SAO 067174 do not to justice to the immense beauty and magnificence of these celestial bodies. It is perhaps through creativity where the Greeks finally trump us. They were forced to come up with not only astronomy star names but back stories to make sense of what they saw moving, living, and existing far above them. In Greek astronomy star names were a matter of pride.

The North Star is the brightest star in the sky. The same star we look at today helped countless mariners navigate northwards for thousands of years before us. To this star the Greeks gave the name Sirius. It translates into 'searing', or 'scorching', which is an apt title for such a bright body of light. The Greeks had no way of knowing its brightness was simply a result of the star being closer to us than many in the night sky.

Perhaps it is sad that a race of ancient people came up with the term Sirius while we simply called it "the north star". The deeper we dig, however, the worse it gets. One of the most visible constellations at any given time of year is the constellation the Greeks call "Ursa Major", or the great bear. We call it by a much less creative name; The Big Dipper. The bright star that follows Ursa Major around the sky was called "Arcturus". This translates into "bear driver", as it appears that this mysterious Arcturus is herding the Great Bear around the night sky.

There are understandable reasons for why later races chose to take the creativity out of the Greek astronomy star names. While the names were beautiful, they did nothing to allow an ordered system. If anything, the many proper names caused chaos because there was no way to classify the stars in ways such as brightness, size, or proximity to the Earth. It is left to the individual to decide if this was a proper course of action but one thing is certain. Long after we're gone, people will still be looking at the same night sky, perhaps creating their own new names and legends for the mysterious lights in the sky that captivate our imagination and fill our lives with meaning.