Constellation Lyra The Lyre Of Orpheus Includes Interesting Double Stars

Learn about the double stars of the constellation Lyra and how Orpheus used his lyre to charm women and Hades the god of the underworld. He even saved Jason and the Argonauts from the lure of the Sirens.

 Symbolism: Lyra the lyre, a musical instrument with strings used in antiquity.

northern-constellations-lyraMythology: Lyra represents the lyre of Orpheus, the musician and poet in Greek mythology. There are many stories of Orpheus. In one he saves Jason and the Argonauts when his beautiful music quells the voices of the Sirens as they attempted to lure the Argonauts to their death on the rocky shores of the Sirens’ Island. In another story Orpheus descends into the underworld to bring his wife back to life. Orpheus charms Hades with his melodies, but ultimately fails to bring Eurydice back to the land of the living.

When is it visible? The constellation Lyra is best seen from June through October in the northern hemisphere and much of the southern hemisphere directly overhead. Follow the Name a Star Space Blog to learn what is coming in September?

How to find it? Lyra, the northernmost of the August constellations, is relatively small, and easy to find because its brightest star, Vega (Alpha Lyrae), is the the second brightest star in the northern sky, slightly dimmer only than Arcturus.

History and Science: First catalogued by the astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century. Lyra is home to two variable eclipsing stars, Beta Lyrae and RR Lyrae, which are so close together that they exchange mass. These binary stars sometimes appear as one star as they rotate around each other. Beta and RR already have names, but many other binary stars exist that make perfect anniversary or romantic gifts at Name a Star.

The area corresponding to Lyra was seen by the Arabs as a vulture or an eagle diving with folded wings. In Wales, Lyra is known as King Arthur’s Harp (Talyn Arthur), and King David’s harp. The Persian Hafiz called it the Lyre of Zurah. It has been called the Manger of the Infant Saviour, Praesepe Salvatoris. In Australian Aboriginal astronomy, Lyra is known by the Boorong people in Victoria as the Malleefowl constellation. Lyra was known as Urcuchillay by the Incas and was worshipped as an animal deity.

Fathers Day Skywatchers Gift Guide 2022

Looking for a unique Father’s Day gift that gets Dad outside? Check out the ideas below for the stargazing dad from beginner to advanced.

father-son-telescopeWould dad like to get a closer look at the stars without becoming an astronaut? You could start him out with a good pair of binoculars. If dad is ready for a telescope, don’t waste your money on one that is difficult to assemble or too complicated. Here is a list of quality telescopes ranging from $100 to $2,000.

Don’t be confused by terms like focal length, aperture, reflector, and refractor. A reflector telescope uses mirrors and a refractor telescope uses lenses. A Catadioptric telescope combines the best of all of these features.

There are even travel telescopes, so dad can take it with him. They are lightweight, compact, and easy to set up. If you live in an apartment or space is at a premium, then this may be the best choice for dad.

We are talking about Father’s Day, so let’s get the kids involved. Dad and the kids can have hours of fun with the book 50 Things To See With A Telescope. You could also plan a fun group activity, like learning why the moon has craters. Make a dough out of flour and oil, then drop pebbles on this “moon surface” to see what kind of craters they make.

If dad has all of the gear he needs, then take him on a dark sky vacation. One of the newest dark sky locations is in Name a Star’s backyard at Prineville Reservoir. Whether it is a visit to your back yard or a trip to Oregon, get outside to enjoy the night sky.

If you really want to send dad into space, name a star after him. Name a Star offers a variety of Fathers Day gifts. You can even put a special message on his certificate of registration letting him know what a special dad his is.

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Women Astronomers Part 3

Who discovered the most comets, identified the universe’s most common substance, and started the scientific search for extraterrestrial aliens? Women astronomers. Learn their stories.

Women make up only 15% of today’s astronomers, yet they have made some of our most important astronomical discoveries. Let’s hear the stories of three of those amazing women in Part 3 of the Name a Star series on female astronomers.

In the early 1970s, Vera Rubin was part of a team studying the rotation of spiral galaxies. To their surprise, they found that galaxies were rotating so fast that predictions showed they should break apart if the only thing holding them together was the gravity from their visible stars. Rubin and her collaborators hypothesized that some invisible glue — an unseen mass — must be at work. The group’s groundbreaking work provided the first direct evidence of the existence of invisible dark matter, that mysterious stuff that makes up most of the universe but gives off no energy or light. 


Jill Tarter Led NASA’s Search For Extra Terrestrial Intelligence

 Jill Tarter led the search for extraterrestrial life using radio astronomy. Tarter is the co-creator and former director of the Center for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). This nonprofit continues its search and education activities despite Congress refusing to fund this NASA project since 1993.

Famous astronomer and author Carl Sagan based the main character, Ellie Arroway, in his fictional novel, Contact, on Tarter. Jodie Foster played the role in the movie “Contact”.

Carolyn Shoemaker discovered more asteroids (500) and comets (32) than any other astronomer. She became famous in 1993 when she co-discovered Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with her husband Eugene and fellow astronomer David Levy. The comet was orbiting Jupiter in pieces. The next year, its 21 fragments smashed into Jupiter, wowing astronomers everywhere with a spectacular once-in-a-lifetime show. 

Before the Jupiter impacts, a reporter asked her what would happen if all the comet’s fragments were to hit Earth instead. “We would all die,” she answered. The interviewer explained that this was for a children’s program, then posed the question again. Carolyn’s second answer: “We would all be very uncomfortable.”

Honor the woman in your life, by naming a star for her for Mothers Day.

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Women In Astronomy Part 2

In our first Name a Star blog on women in astronomy, we discovered that a group of women did most of the work on the star catalog for which Edward Pickering got credit. Learn how brilliant hard working women advanced the science of astronomy.


Early Woman Astronomer

In 1881 a team of women at the Harvard Observatory called “computers”, helped photograph and catalog the entire night sky to produce the Henry Draper Catalogue. These women painstakingly performed complex calculations needed to process data from those images. Why was it called the Henry Draper Catalogue? Because the widow of astronomer Henry Draper funded the project to honor her husband and support the women scientists.

In our previous blog, we had fun with the fact that Williamina Fleming, the leader of the women scientists, started out as astronomer Charles Pickering’s housekeeper. However, many of the women on the team were graduates of Harvard affiliated Radcliffe College and scientists in their own right. Antonia Maury helped locate the first double star. Henrietta Leavitt developed a law to determine stellar distances. The most famous of the Harvard computers was Annie Jump Cannon. An expert in astrophotography, she cataloged over 350,000 stars and developed the classification system used today.

Another Radcliffe College graduate, Canadian Helen Sawyer Hogg, is best remembered for researching variable stars in globular clusters and for a long-standing astronomy column she had in the Toronto Star between 1951 and 1981.

Nancy Grace Roman was the first chief of astronomy in the Office of Space Science at NASA Headquarters, and the first woman to hold an executive position at the space agency. Her managed projects include the world-famous Hubble Space Telescope, earning her the nickname, “Mother of Hubble.”

Jocelyn Bell Burnell was part of a team that discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967. Eventually, researchers figured out that radio pulsars are coming from swiftly rotating neutron stars, which are the cosmic leftovers of huge stars that exploded in supernovas. Pulsars have been used for numerous types of studies in the decades since, including testing Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Bell Burnell never received Nobel credit for her work, although other male team members did.

Once again women did the work and men got the credit. Have any women received the Nobel Prize for Astronomy/Astrophysics? Andrea Ghez, a professor of physics and astronomy at UCLA, shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in physics for finding a supermassive black hole stuffed with 4 million suns at the center of our galaxy. Among the four female Nobel Laureates in physics to date, Ghez is the only astronomer. Her award is a pinnacle for women in astronomy and astrophysics. 

You may not be able to award a Noble Prize, but you can award a friend of loved one their own star at Name a Star. Check it out.

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Female Astronomers Who Made The Discoveries, While Men Got The Credit

In honor of Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first black female Supreme Court Justice, Name a Star is pleased to shine a light on women pioneers in astronomy. Learn their hidden stories.

Most would agree that Hypatia of Alexandria was the first female astronomer. Hypatia wrote explanatory notes for Almagest, an astronomical treatise by Ptolemy, the most influential Greek astronomer of his time. Hypatia was brutally murdered in 415 C.E. by a fanatical sect of monks who felt threatened by her level of knowledge and the encouragement for learning that Hypatia had inspired.

We have to fast forward to the 18th century to find our next set of female astronomers. In 1740 Émilie du Châtelet wrote Institutions de Physique to present Newton’s planetary movement theory in French. Du Châtelet updated Newton’s theory by replacing Newton’s geometric methods with the powerful new tool of calculus.

Caroline Herschel discovered a comet and a nebula, plus contributed over 500 stars to the Flamsteed star catalog. She spent most of her career toiling in her brother William’s shadow, however in 1787, King George III gave her official employment as William’s assistant, granting her a modest salary. She was also the first woman to receive honorary membership with Britain’s prestigious Royal Society.

An interesting group of women who advanced astronomy are those who worked with Edward Charles Pickering at Harvard Observatory. Pickering’s approach toward astronomic techniques was examining photographs, rather than taking notes while staring for hours through a telescope.


Pickering’s Harem

In 1881, Pickering had a problem, these photographs created massive amounts of data. Pickering’s assistant was inefficient at cataloging the stars, so Pickering did what any scientist of the latter 19th century would have done: he fired his male assistant and replaced him with his maid, Williamina Fleming. Fleming proved so adept at computing and copying that she would work at Harvard for 34 years–eventually managing a large staff of female assistants. These women, known as “computers”, revolutionized the science of astronomy.

Some of these women would produce significant work on their own. There stories will have to wait for another blog. The majority of the computers are remembered not individually but collectively, by the moniker Pickering’s Harem. The less-than-enlightened nickname reflects the status of women at a time when they were–with rare exception–expected to devote their energies to breeding and homemaking or to bettering their odds of attracting a husband. 

The work of Williamina Fleming and her assistants resulted in the Henry Draper Catalogue. Like most star catalogs each star has a unique star number, but remains unnamed until Name a Star helps its customers name those stars in honor of a friend or loved one.

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Constellation Hydra The Water Snake

Learn how Hercules defeated Hydra the multi headed Water Snake, which grew two new heads every time he cut one off. Find out more about the 88 constellations at Name a Star.

 Symbolism: Hydra the Water Snake, the largest constellation in the night sky.

Mythology: The oldest stories come from Hindu and Chinese mythology referring to dragons. Stories better known in the west come from ancient Greece describing a mythological hybrid of serpent, lion and bird. One myth associates Hydra with a crow that is sent by Apollo to fetch a cup of water. The crow stops to feast on figs instead of collecting water. The crow arrives with a water snake in a cup and no water, then blames the snake. Apollo saw through the fraud and angrily cast the crow, cup, and snake, into the sky. (Corvus, Crater, and Hydra).

In a more exciting myth, the multi headed monster Hydra grows two new heads every time Hercules cuts one off. Hercules enlists his nephew, Iolaus, to sear the necks with a torch to prevent them from growing back. This enabled Hercules to overcome the Hydra and trap it under a rock.

When is it visible?  Best seen from the southern hemisphere, but can be observed in the north between January and May.

How to find it? Hydra spreads across the sky from horizon to horizon in the south.

History:  A similar constellation dates to the Babylonian star catalogs that list two serpent related constellations. Hindu Mythology and Chinese Astronomy mention equivalent constellations associated with dragons. The Hydra constellation recognized today was first catalogued by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century. Hydra is one of the 15 equatorial constellations. It contains seven stars named by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which leaves all of the rest of the Hydra constellation stars to be named as gifts at Name a Star.

Are Satellites Interfering With Stargazing?

Who Owns The Night Sky?

A couple of years ago, an astronomer friend of mine invited the staff of Name a Star to watch a satellite train. Most stargazers have observed satellites, especially the largest satellite, the International Space Station, but what you may ask is a satellite train? Several companies are in the process of launching rocket ships that deploy multiple satellites at once. When the satellites are first released, they streak across the sky in a line before spreading out to their intended orbits.


Photo Credit: Stanislav Kaniansky, koza/Satellite Streak Watcher/CC-BY 4.0

On the night 2 years ago when I saw my first satellite train, there were 60 satellites chasing each other across the sky. It was a spectacular sight and felt like a major astronomical event. As we watched, my astronomer friend shared with me that scientists and amateur astronomers were worried that these satellites could destroy our beautiful night skies and ruin astronomy. I wondered, who owns the night sky and what is going on with satellite technology?

The satellites that I observed are part of Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink program. The purpose of Starlink and other similar programs is to bring internet and connectivity to the globe, especially rural and disadvantaged populations that lack the access that is becoming a critical part of education, health care, and commerce. Unfortunately, as Dr. James Lowenthal, professor and chair of astronomy, Smith College, North Hampton, said on Science Friday “They’re big, and they’re bright”. The satellites show up as bright streaks of light that distort images of far-away galaxies. There’s a wealth of issues in addition to science– the sky traditions of people around the world, cultural practices, and stargazer’s right to enjoy the stars.

How big is this problem? SpaceX plans an initial “constellation” of 1,548 Starlinks, but ultimately it aims to fill out a network with as many as 42,000 satellites. In addition to SpaceX, OneWeb plans to put 6,372 satellites in the sky and Amazon’s Project Kuiper plans for 6,236 satellites. There could be 100,000 of these communications satellites 10 years from now.

Back to who owns the night sky? In the United States the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates communications satellites and all of these organizations are licensed. The American Astronomical Society and the United Nations have recommended that satellite brightness be limited to magnitude 7. These are recommendations, not laws, so apparently no one owns the night sky.

To SpaceX’s credit, they are attempting to address astronomers’ concerns. First, they painted the satellites black, but they overheated. Next, they tried a sunshade, a visor-like appendage (VisorSat) that reduces the sunlight reflected to observers on the ground. This worked and studies have shown that the brightness has been reduced by two-thirds to an average magnitude of 6. SpaceX continues to experiment. For example, the satellites, which are flat, can be adjusted in orbit, so only a knife edge faces earth.

Let’s hope the stars remain visible, so you can name a star for a friend or loved one, who can look up in appreciation.

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Valentines Day Stars

Learn About The Stormy Relationship Of Double Stars That Sometimes Explode In A Super Nova


Mixed-up Double Star Has Unusual Orbit Courtesy of University of Warwick/Mark Garlick

Did you know there are double stars in the sky that are bound so tightly together that they have the same celestial address? Naming a double star makes a great gift, especially for Valentine’s Day. Let’s learn more about these astronomical phenomena.

Scientists divide double stars into two types, visual binaries and optical doubles.  Binary stars are bound gravitationally sharing the same orbit. Optical doubles appear to be close, but are actually a chance line-of-sight alignment of two stars at different distances from the observer. 

Double stars are so important, they even have their own star catalog, the Washington Double Star Catalog. It was first published by the Lick Observatory in 1963 and is now maintained by the United States Naval Observatory. Each double star only has one entry because they appear so close together.

In 1617, at the request of a fellow scientist, Galileo Galilei turned his telescope toward the second star from the end of the handle of the Big Dipper, discovering that one star seemed to be two. It took nearly 200 more years before Sir William Herschel, first used the term “binary” in reference to these double stars in 1802.

Some double stars are so close together that they exchange material. As their relationship continues, one star may capture the other causing them to merge into a single star. Other double stars don’t get along. One member of the pair can explode in a super nova that obliterates its partner. Most double stars appear to have stable relationships and stay together as they rotate around each other.

Naming two stars that are bound together for all eternity is the perfect way for couples, lovers, sisters, and brothers to show their love.

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Memorials Stars

Memorials Come In Many Forms Including The Taj Mahal, A Local Park Bench, And Your Grandfather’s Gravestone

Since we just celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, let’s discuss how we memorialize special people. Memorials come in many forms including granite soldiers, towering obelisks, historic buildings, roadside crucifixes, memorial bridges, stars in the sky, and no end of scattered mementos. Some of them were left by ancestors for reasons that may be obscured by time. 

Webster defines memorial as something that keeps remembrance alive or commemorates. Memorials are an important part of every culture. They allow people to remember a deceased loved one or an important public figure. Memorials have existed in every culture for thousands of years. For examples the Taj Mahal, Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, and the Great Pyramids were created in the loving memory of great leaders and unforgotten heroes. It is only due to memorials that even today we are able to remember the people who were important in our lives, from Parents to Presidents and show our respect to them.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was unveiled in 2011 and was the first memorial of this kind to honor an African-American leader. The design of the monument was inspired by King’s words, “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” It’s located in downtown D.C. and represents the struggle for equality, freedom, and justice.


Martin Luther King Memorial

The Taj Mahal was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It also houses the tomb of Shah Jahan himself. Construction took over 20 years and cost the modern day equivalent of U.S. $1 billion. The construction project employed some 20,000 artisans under the guidance of a board of architects led by the court architect to the emperor.

Crosses are the principal symbol of the Christian religion, recalling the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the redeeming benefits of his Passion and death. The cross is thus a sign both of Christ himself and of the faith of Christians.

Have you or a friend lost a loved one and you want a way to commemorate them? A fast and easy way to remember a special friend or loved one is to name a memorial star after them. Any time you miss them, just glance to the sky and know that they are watching over you.  This also makes a great gift for those around you who may be hurting. You can even remember a furry friend with a pet memorial.

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Constellation Taurus The Bull Known For Over 15,000 Years

Symbolism: Bull. It has been associated with the bull in many cultures and mythologies: Greek and Egyptian among others, and even going back to Ancient Babylon.

 Mythology: Taurus is the second sign in the zodiac and represents those born from April 20 to May 20. In Greek mythology, Taurus is usually associated with Zeus, who adopted the shape of a bull in order to seduce and abduct Europa, the beautiful daughter of the Phoenician King Agenor. Zeus mingled with the king’s herd and, being the most handsome bull there, he got Europa’s attention. The princess admired the bull and, when she sat on his back, he rose and headed for the sea. Zeus carried Europa all the way to the island of Crete, where he revealed his true identity and lavished the princess with presents.


Gilgamesh Faces The Bull

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest literary works from Mesopotamia, Gilgamesh faces the Bull of Heaven sent by the goddess Ishtar to defeat the hero after he had rejected her advances.

When is it visible? The bull passes through the sky from November to March, but the constellation is at its most visible in January. 

 How to find it? Look to the south, find Orion, his belt points to Taurus.

History:  One of the oldest constellations. First catalogued by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century, but has been known since the Bronze Age. Michael Rappenglück of the University of Munich believes that Taurus is represented in a cave painting at the Hall of the Bulls in the caves at Lascaux dated to roughly 15,000 BC. Taurus contains the Crab Nebula, which is an expanding remnant of a supernova event observed in 1054 AD by Japanese and Chinese astronomers and most likely Native Americans.

You can give a star to a friend or loved one in the constellation Taurus at Name a Star.