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The beautiful star with the unsightly name, Betelgeuse, is well up in the southeastern sky by 8 o'clock.


The outer solar system in December.


The inner solar system this week.


Top: The sky as seen from mid-northern latitudes; Bottom: The sky as seen from mid-southern latitudes. Both are at 9:30 p.m., facing south. The curved line represents the plane of our solar system, called the ecliptic.
SpaceWatch -- A Star by Any Other Name
By Jeff Kanipe

posted: 30 June 2005
08:05 am

Bordering the western edge of the winter Milky Way, Orion's second-brightest star, Betelgeuse, is like a ruby set in a coal seam. [inset]

Astronomers know volumes about this compelling star. They know, for example, that it belongs to a class of elderly stars called red supergiants that are approaching the end of their lives. Astronomers also know Betelgeuse's surface temperature -- 3,320 degrees Fahrenheit (1,826 degrees Celsius). They also know its mass (20 times the Sun's), luminosity (14,000 Suns) and approximate distance (800 light-years). But there is still one searing question that has yet to be put to rest, one that plagues and bedevils both astronomers and the general public alike: How do you pronounce (and spell) "Betelgeuse"?

It's a mouthful, to be sure. And it often elicits smiles and guffaws from the public when its name is mentioned at star parties. ("Beetle what?") Of the few astronomy guides that provide the phonetics for star names and constellations there seems to be no real consensus.

The Observer's Handbook (2000), published by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, favors "BET-el-jooz" as the correct pronunciation. (Their 2001 edition has a typo in the pronunciation "BET et jooz" -- At least I hope it's a typo.) Martha Evans Martin, in her classic work The Friendly Stars, prefers "BET-el-gerz." Richard Hinkley Allen in Star Names, Their Lore and Meaning, spells it "Betelgeuze," which may be the source of Martin's pronunciation. Allen, who is more concerned with astronomical etymology, avoids the pronunciation issue, but does present alternate spellings -- these being "Betelguese" and "Betelgeux."

My copy of The American Heritage Dictionary lists it alternately as "BET-l-jooz" and "BET-l-jeuz" (the "eu" being pronounced like the French "eu," as in jeu d'esprit), while my of Webster's Collegiate provides three pronunciations, including "BET-ul-joos." I've also heard more than a few erudite astronomers variously pronounce it "BET-el-geeze," "BET-el-g z" and "BET-el-gez." And, of course, we know what Hollywood did to it: "BEETLE juice."

I suppose in some respects the proper pronunciation of this star name is an academic issue that shouldn't much concern skywatchers. Besides, the etymon of Betelgeuse is the Arabic phrase Ibt al Jauzah, which means "Armpit of the Central One." Such a word, then, can't be considered elegant, no matter how you pronounce it. Still, it's a beautiful old star that looks nothing like its name.

Jupiter and its Moons in Real Time

This image is of Jupiter and its moons as they appear right now -- click for a larger version. Image is updated every four hours. Time is given in Universal Time (UT), which is the same as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and is 5 hours ahead of EST. Images created using SPACE.com's Starry Night Pro.

 

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