Is it a bird, it is a vaka? No, it’s a Cooks star!

Friday October 04, 2019 Written by Published in Weather
Cook Islands Maori have voyaged by the stars for hundreds of years. 19060638 / 19060639 Cook Islands Maori have voyaged by the stars for hundreds of years. 19060638 / 19060639

 Wendy Evans says a nautical theme might be appropriate in the contest for Cook Islands to name a star, as we have been navigating by the stars for centuries.

 Roughly 10,000 stars are visible to the naked eye but only about 330 have been given names recognised by the International Astronomy Union. Some of the brighter stars have been named for hundreds of years. For example Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, probably got its name in the fourteenth century.

But there are thousands of others that go by unexciting forms such as HD 123456.

The International Astronomy Union held a star and planet naming competition a few years ago.

It was smaller than this year's contest and in the end just 14 stars and 31 exoplanets received new names. (Some of the planets orbit already named stars.)

Names ranged from scientists, literary characters, gods and goddesses to creatures from myths and legends.

For example, one star in the Delphinus (Dolphin) constellation is now called Musica and has a planet Arion. Arion was an ancient Greek musician. He was lost at sea and saved by dolphins that heard him playing his lyre.

And a star in Draconis, the Dragon constellation, is now Fafnir, a Norse mythological dwarf who turned into a dragon.

Astronomers Copernicus and Galileo now have a place in the sky, as do Aztec sun god Tonatiuh and moon goddess Meztli.

Spanish author Cervantes has a star while its planets have been given names from his book Don Quixote.

For this IAU centenary year competition we have been assigned the star HD 221287.

The IAU rules say “proposed names should be of things, people, or places of long-standing cultural, historical, or geographical significance, worthy of being memorialised through naming of a celestial object”.

This gives us plenty of scope, from Cook Islands history and legends that are so brilliantly portrayed every year in Te Maeva Nui, our different islands, the ocean that surrounds us, plants and animals both on land and in the sea.

Of particular interest are birds, as the star we will name is in Tucana constellation and the toucan is a South American bird. Historical characters can be used but they must have died more than a century ago.

Cook Islanders have been using the stars for centuries as they navigate their ocean-going vaka around the Pacific, so nautical themes might be appropriate.

We also have our own names for the brighter stars and some constellations, often different names from different islands.

* To name the Cook Islands Exoworld, go to astrofizz.org

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