Other names for Betelgeuse
The scientific name for Betelgeuse used by
astronomers worldwide today is Alpha Orionis. That name comes
from a list of stars compiled in 1603 by the German astronomer
Johann Bayer. Bayer assigned Greek letters to the brightest stars
in each constellation. Alpha is the first letter of the Greek
Betelgeuse is also known by its "Flamsteed
number" 58 Orionis, from a list of stars collected by the English
astronomer John Flamsteed and printed in 1712. In Flamsteed's
list, the stars in each constellation are numbered from east to
Modern star catalogs
Today, professional astronomers do not give
names to stars -- only numbers, in long lists called star catalogs.
The biggest star catalog today is the Hubble
Guide Star Catalog, which lists 16 million stars, none bright
enough to see with the naked eye, that the Hubble Space Telescope
uses to find its targets.
The catalog is available for sale to the public
on a CD-ROM. One vendor that sells it is the Astronomical Society
of the Pacific, 1-800-335-2624.
Can you buy a star?
Today, there is no group or person that is
generally recognized as having the authority to sell or give new
names to stars. There is an organization, the International Astronomical
Union (IAU), that gives official names to craters, mountains,
and similar features on other planets and moons, but the IAU does
not name stars.
However, there are some private businesses
that will, for a fee of about $45 or more, attach your name to
a star. How do they pick their stars? One of these companies simply
takes a star from the Hubble Guide Star Catalog when a new order
comes in. They sketch the star's position on a star map (remember,
none of the Hubble Guide Stars is bright enough to be seen with
the naked eye), and then send you the map and a certificate with
information about your star inscribed in attractive calligraphy.
This can be harmless good fun if you
understand that none of these companies has the authority to give
an official name to a star.
It's also important to remember that these
companies are not likely to "sell" you a star bright enough to
see with the naked eye, because there just aren't enough naked-eye
stars to satisfy all their customers!
Usually, planetariums and professional astronomers
have frowned on star-naming companies because their work is not
official. However, a recent editorial in the magazine Sky and
Telescope suggested that star names could be sold to raise
money for astronomical research. What do you think?
To find out more...
...see the following articles in Sky and
Telescope magazine (check your local library for back issues):
"How We Got Our 'Arabic' Star Names" by Paul
Kunitzsch, January 1983, pp. 20-22. (Most of the information in
this FAQ document came from this article.)
"Who Numbered Flamsteed's Stars?" by Morton
Wagman, April 1991, pp. 380-381.
"Selling Stars," editorial by Philip Bagnall,
October 1996, pp. 6-7.
A short introduction to the history of the
constellations appears in Star Maps for Beginners by I.
M. Levitt and Roy K. Marshall (Fireside, 1992).
One of the major "star-naming" companies
is International Star Registry, phone (800) 282-3333.