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Speaking of Muslims...

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  • mahtezcatpoc
    I saw this article about Arabic star names (given by Muslim Arab astronomers?) on another list.
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 17, 2010
      I saw this article about Arabic star names (given by Muslim Arab astronomers?) on another list.


      "On March 3, 1995, when American astronomers Andrea Dupree and Ronald Gilliland trained the orbiting Hubble Telescope on the constellation of Orion the Hunter, they captured a historic photograph: the first-ever direct image of the disk of a star other than the Sun.

      Until then, star photographs had shown only points of light, but Dupree and Gilliland produced an image large enough to give the star a shape. The center of the bright orange image showed a mysterious hot spot twice the diameter of the Earth's orbit, surrounded by an ultraviolet atmosphere that emits prodigious amounts of radiation.

      The star was Betelgeuse, one of the most famous of the red supergiants and the second brightest star in Orion.

      The odd name of Betelgeuse, in the constellation Orion, comes from an Arabic original whose first letter was inadvertantly changed by a 13th-century astronomer. Second brightest in Orion, the star that was originally named in Arabic yad al-jawza' appears (top) at the upper left, and above, in an antique-style rendition, at the end of the sleeve of the hunter's tunic.

      Betelgeuse (pronounced beetle-jooz or sometimes bet-el-juice) is an odd name—but then most of the common star names sound strange to the western ear. The reason is that most of them are of Arabic origin: Aldebaran ("The Follower"), Algol ("The Ghoul"), Arrakis ("The Dancer"), Deneb ("Tail"), Fomalhaut ("The Fish's Mouth"), Rigel ("Foot"), Thuban ("Snake"), Vega ("Plunging [Eagle]").… The list goes on.

      The derivation of Betelgeuse is more problematic than most, but experts today trace the name back to the Arabic yad al-jawza', "The Hand of the Giant"—the giant being Orion. A transcription error, confusing the initial letters b and y (in Arabic, ba and ya) because of their similar shape, dates back to the 13th century, when a star table by John of London (who lived and worked in Paris) named the star Bedalgeuze. Accepting this form, European scholars like the French polymath Joseph Scaliger thought the name meant "Armpit of the Giant" (properly, ibt al-jawza'). But yad al-jawza' goes back at least as far as the star charts of the Muslim astronomer al-Sufi in the 10th century and is probably much older than that.

      The 48 traditional star constellations—Andromeda, Hercules, Perseus and so on—have Latin names, and most of them represent Greek mythical figures. These names were passed on to us by Ptolemy of Alexandria, the second-century Egyptian–Greek astronomer whose view of the universe was bequeathed to the medieval world. (Many of the Greek star figures were themselves borrowed from the myths of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.) But many of the popular names of the visible stars in these constellations are nevertheless Arabic. Some came from the star pictures that early Bedouins saw in the night sky; others were Arabic translations of Ptolemy's Greek terms. Many of these names would be immediately recognized by Arabs today; others would not.

      Some of the star names are fragments of longer Arabic names—often shortened to fit on medieval astronomical measurement devices called astrolabes. Some have been distorted beyond recognition over the centuries, due to transcription and copying errors. At least 210 of the stars most easily seen with the naked eye have names derived from Arabic words, according to science historian Paul Kunitzsch of the University of Munich, an acknowledged expert on Arabic star names.

      Kunitzsch has done extensive research on the transmission of Arabic star names into European usage. Of the 210 Arabic star names he identified, he finds that 52 percent come from authentic Arabic originals, 39 percent from translated Ptolemaic originals, and 9 percent from conjecture, erroneous readings or artistic choice.


      Mark A. Holmes
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