There are a ton of stars in the universe, so many in fact that we can’t really count them all, but the ones we are able to actually see and study come from that of our own Milky Way galaxy. They’re close enough that we can observe them through the most powerful of telescopes.
Image Credit: IAU/NASA
Of course, the list of known stars continues to expand every single day, as astronomers turn the dials on their telescopes and focus on uncharted areas in the skies. Unfortunately, as we discover more of them, it becomes difficult to keep track of all of them and their names, especially when they get named in weird ways.
To help fix the problem, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has approved official new names for 227 stars known to exist. The first of the 227 stars to be renamed have already been published in the IAU’s catalog online, but more are expected to come as time goes on.
“Since the IAU is already adopting names for exoplanets and their host stars, it has been seen as necessary to catalogue the names for stars in common use from the past, and to clarify which ones will be official from now on,” says Eric Mamajek, chair and organizer of the WGSN.
Included on the new list is the well-known star system Alpha Centauri, which has been renamed something more formal: Rigil Kentaurus. The move is one to help reduce confusion between systems with similar names, including the nearby Proxima Centauri, which will reportedly be keeping its current name.
For the most part, the IAU seems to favor one-word names, as they’re the easiest to remember and catch on to, but in some cases, names with astronomical historical importance may also be approved.
For some, this new set of names may cause more confusion than it hopes to end. This is because we’ve referred to specific star systems by certain names for years, even decades, and now astronomers that have studied them for so long will have to call them something different. In addition to that, new scholars may begin referring to systems by the new name and have no idea what someone means when they bring up the old name.
It should be interesting to see what else gets approved as star names in the future from the IAU.
Source: International Astronomical Union via Space.com