Arabic Star Names: A Treasure of Knowledge Shared by the World
The origin of star names
Regardless of origin, almost all star names belong to old traditions. They are a part of the collective cultural heritage of humanity. Modern astronomers study many stars too faint to see without a telescope, and these are so numerous they are known only by catalogue numbers and coordinates. As a result, official star names are essentially limited to the old names, and typically only bright stars have names.
The majority of stars names are related to their constellation, e.g., the star Deneb means "tail" and labels that part of Cygnus the Swan. Others describe the star itself, such as Sirius, which translates literally as "scorching," apt enough for the brightest star in the sky. Quite a lot of prominent stars bear Arabic names, in which al corresponds to the article "the" and often appears in front, e.g., Algol, "The Ghoul." Its inclusion has become somewhat arbitrary over time. Hence, several star names of Arabic origin are given elsewhere with or without the al- prefix. Most other names of stars inherited from the past have Greek, Latin or Chinese labels.
History of Arabic Star Names
Ptolemy, the Greek astronomer who lived and worked around 100-178 CE in Alexandria, Egypt, collected ancient Greek descriptions of 1,022 stars in his famous book The Great System of Astronomy, popularised under its shortened Arabic title, the Almagest. Ptolemy's catalogue of stars arranged into 48 constellations, with estimates of their brightness, based largely on the observations of the Greek earlier astronomers, such as Hipparchus.
Ptolemy's book was translated twice into Arabic in the 9th century and became famous. Many of the Arabic-language star descriptions in the Almagest came to be used widely as names for stars. The leading expert on star names in Islamic astronomy, the German historian Paul Kunitzsch, has identified two traditions of star names in Muslim heritage. The first is the traditional star folklore of the Muslim peoples which he has named "indigenous-Arabic", the second being the scientific Islamic Arabic tradition, which he designates "scientific-Arabic".
When the Arabic texts were translated into Latin beginning from the 12th century, the Arabic tradition of star names was passed down to the Latin world. However, this happened often in a highly corrupted form that either changed the meaning, or in extreme cases gave birth to words with no meaning at all. Other names were mistakenly transferred from one star to another, so that a name might even refer to a different constellation (Greek or Arabic) rather than to the one of the star's actual residence.
Nevertheless, even with these shortcomings, the majority of star names adopted since the Renaissance are Arabic in origin. In 1603, German astronomer Johann Bayer (1572-1625) instituted a system of assigning Greek letters to stars (Bayer designation), consisting of a lowercase Greek letter followed by the genitive name of the constellation. The letters are usually assigned to the stars in the order of their brightness within a given constellation. For instance, the brightest star in a constellation "Alpha" was rendered as "the second Beta," and so on. To the Greek letter name is appended the Latin possessive form of the constellation name. Thus the brightest star in Lyra, Vega (an Arabic proper name), becomes Alpha of Lyra or Alpha Lyrae (where "Lyrae" means "of Lyra").
Al-Sufi's Book of the Fixed Stars
|Figure 4: Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, Tarcama-i Kitab-i Suvaru'l-kevâkib, Süleymaniye Library, MS Ayasofya 2595, fol. 25b-26a. Figure of Cassiopeia, dhât al-kursî (the seated one). The constellation, composed of 13 stars, represents the figure of a woman seated on a cushioned chair. The largest of the stars, in the cushion upon which one of Cassiopeia's elbows rests, is called al-kaff al-khadib (written al-hadîb), maning "the hand of the dyed one".|
One of those who left an indelib`le influence on the Arabic observation and study of stars is the astronomer Abu al-Husayn ‘Abd Al-Rahman al-Sufi (903-986), known also by his Latinized name of Azophi, who systematically revised Ptolemy's catalogue of stars. Al-Sufi produced a revised and updated version of Ptolemy's Almagest in a major book called Kitab suwar al-kawakib (The Book of Fixed Stars), completed around 964 CE. Built on the basis of the Greek astronomical heritage, the work of al- Sufi contained a listing of the Arabs' own star names, magnitudes determined by al-Sufi himself, and two drawings of each constellation, one as it is seen in the sky and one reversed right to left as it would appear on a celestial globe. The oldest surviving copy was produced by his son around 1010 CE and is p
by: FSTC Research Team<, Sat 24 November, 2007