Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/390

This page has been validated.
380
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Argo. Thus, for example, we have Argus, which after the subdivision belonged to the constellation Carina. The variable star η Argus also belongs to the constellation Carina. But in the case of stars not marked by Bayer, the names were assigned according to the subdivided constellations, Vela, Carina, etc. Confusing though this proceeding may appear to be, it is not productive of serious trouble. The main point is that the same star should always have the same name in successive catalogues. Still, however, it has recently become quite common to ignore the constellation Argus altogether and use only the names of its subdivisions. The reader must therefore be on his guard against any mistake arising in this way in the study of astronomical literature.

In star catalogues the position of a star in the heavens is sometimes given in connection with its name. In this case the confusion arising from the same star having different names may be avoided, since a star can always be identified by its right ascension and declination. The fact is that, so far as mere identification is concerned, nothing but the statement of a star's position is really necessary. Unfortunately, the position constantly changes through the precession of the equinoxes, so that this designation of a star is a variable quantity. Hence the special names which we have described are the most convenient to use in the case of well-known stars. In other cases a star is designated by its number in some well-known catalogue. But even here different astronomers choose different catalogues, so that there are still different designations for the same star. The case is one in which action of uniformity of practice is unattainable.

 

Cataloguing and Numbering the Stars.

A catalogue or list of stars is a work giving for each star listed its magnitude and its position on the celestial sphere, with such other particulars as may be necessary to attain the object of the catalogue. If the latter includes only the more conspicuous stars, it is common to add the name of each star that has one; if none is recognized, the constellation to which the star belongs is frequently given.

The position of a star on the celestial sphere is defined by its right ascension and declination. These correspond to the longitude and latitude of places on the earth, in the following way: Imagine a plane passing through the center of the earth and coinciding with its equator, to extend out so as to intersect the celestial sphere. The line of intersection will be a great circle of the celestial sphere, called the celestial equator. The axis of the earth, being also indefinitely extended in both the north and the south directions, will meet the celestial spheres in two opposite points, known as the north and south celestial poles. The equator will then be a great circle 90° from each