Star and Planet Names in the Man of War Series

[An earlier version of this document was an appendix to the self-published version of To Honor You Call Us.  It is an “in universe” document, written for a fictitious 24th Century Union reader.]

        The names used by humans in the 24th Century to designate the various stars and planets reached by human exploration of the Galaxy reflect, in microcosm, man’s growing knowledge and understanding of the Universe.  The planets of Earth’s solar system known to the Ancients were given the names of their gods, with modern Astronomy adopting the names given by the Romans.  As astronomers using telescopes discovered more planets in the Sol system, they continued the practice, giving these worlds names from the Roman pantheon.  The Ancients also named the brightest stars in Earth’s night sky, with many of those names being adopted by astronomers and remaining associated with those stars to this day as their “Proper Names.”  Many are familiar, such as Polaris, Altair, Vega, and Rigel.  Some are obscure, such as Mintaka, Alnitak, and Zubin Elgenubi.  Notwithstanding brief flirtations with other naming conventions in the earliest years in which Earthbound astronomers were discovering extrasolar planets, by the mid 21st century, International Astronomical Union adopted a convention, followed to this day, under which a planet orbiting such a star generally known by the proper name of the star, followed by a Roman numeral designating where it falls in the order of the planets in that system, counting outwards from the star.  Hence, the fourth planet from the well known star Altair is Altair IV.

            Many other stars, though lacking Proper Names, were visible from Earth and cataloged by Earth-bound astronomers.  The most important of these catalogs was compiled by the German Johan Beyer in 1603.  Beyer drew boundary lines around the Constellations, both the familiar ones named by the Ancients and new ones recently named when Europeans first started navigating the waters of the Southern Hemisphere, so that every part of the sky was a part of a constellation.  Then he ranked the stars in each constellation, generally (but not always) in order of their apparent brightness viewed from Earth, and assigned to each a letter of the Greek Alphabet in that order (when the Greek letters run out, then letters of the Latin alphabet are used, followed by numbers).  In Beyer’s catalog, a star was designated by its Greek letter or other letter or number, followed by the genitive case of the Latin name of the constellation in which it is found, rendering names such as Tau Ceti, Epsilon Indi, Sigma Draconis.  In at least one case, the Beyer Name of a star became more widely known than the Proper Name it had borne since ancient times—by the late 20th Century the star that had been known for many centuries as Rigel Kentaurus and to mariners as Rigel Kent was better known as Alpha Centauri.  Planets orbiting these stars are, like planets orbiting stars with Proper Names, designated by the star name and a Roman numeral designating their order in that star system, giving us planet names such as Epsilon Indi III.

            Beyer’s Catalog (which he named Uranometria) encompassed only the stars visible with the naked eye from Earth.  In the centuries of telescopic astronomy between the Uranometria and the First Naval Survey in 2123, as many more stars were observed, they were named and cataloged in other systems, usually named for the cataloging astronomer, yielding names such as Wolf 359 and Gliese 581.  Some of these stars, as well as some of the stars with Beyer Names, were found to have planets as a result of observations from earth beginning in the late 20th and early 21st Century.  These planets were originally designated by lower case letters, such as Gliese 581c.  As these designations were for planetary bodies that were inferred by indirect observation techniques such as stellar “wobble” or occultations, they were abandoned for the current system of roman numerals as they came to be directly observed by interferometry, interstellar probes, or direct human exploration.

            Further complications ensued as human beings began to venture to the stars.  Explorers began to discover stars that were not visible from Earth (some within 200 light years of Earth and not visible either because of their low brightness or because they were obscured by nearer bright stars or by nebulae).  Often, these explorers insisted upon naming these stars after themselves or after the person or company who financed the expedition, which is how we came to have stars named Schwartzwalderstein, Oddman, and Trump.  Sometimes, particularly when the numbers for planets are appended to these names, the results can be comical, as in Handschuh II and Tate VIII.  As extrasolar planets came to be colonized, they, too, often came to have names given to them by the inhabitants, often inspired by the nationality or home region of the settlers.  New Istanbul and Nouvelle Acadiana are names of this sort.  This situation can be made more confusing when a star with a “Local Proper Name” is orbited by a planet named by its colonists.  Who would suspect that Morgenstern IV and New Tehran were the same planet?  In such a case, the planet is generally known by the name most commonly used by its inhabitants.  If the system’s star is otherwise well known, often a Bayer, Proper Name, or Local Proper Name designation is given in parenthesis.  E.g., Avalon (Epsilon Eridani II).

            A moon of a planet is designated by the name of the planet it orbits (in whatever form) followed by capital Roman letter, starting with “A” for the innermost moon and going outward.  Accordingly, the third moon orbiting Avalon would be either Avalon C or Epsilon Eridani II C.  This practice can result in some confusing names in light of a certain practice of early telescopic astronomers.  When those astronomers would turn their telescopes to known stars, they would often discover that those stars–visible as a single point of light with the naked eye from Earth–were multiple star systems.  Astronomers responded to this discovery by giving these stars names consisting of the original star name, followed by a Roman letter.  Accordingly, the three stars of the Alpha Centauri system were named Alpha Centauri A, B, and C.  Add planets orbiting those stars, and then moons orbiting those planets, and the result can be a bit on the long side.  That is why the third moon orbiting the second planet in the brightest star in the Alpha Centauri system is Alpha Centauri A II C.  It is no accident that this body is more commonly referred to by its proper name, “Diana.”

            Home worlds of alien civilizations are generally known by the name given to them by the natives, if it is reasonably easy for humans to pronounce.  E.g., Pfelung.  If there is more than one such name, typically the world comes to be known by either the name used by the largest number of the natives or the one that is the easiest for humans to pronounce and remember.  Given a choice between Brrkptakuk and Kuktarp, the latter will win out every time.  If there is no pronounceable name, humans will either render the alien name in the form of a human one, often simplifying it  (Rssmpkuruknya becomes Ressumkirk), make up a name that has no relationship to the alien one (a planet whose inhabitants speak a language that consisting entirely of a series of low-pitched musical tones was named “Tuba”), or name it after the human leader of the expedition to make first contact (a world known by the natives as “Borborgesormanikiknowerathanific” is usually referred to as “Slaton’s Planet”).


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