Seeing Stars

Do you know that the stars you see at night are mainly known by their Arabic names? In Western astronomy, most of the accepted star names (over 100) are Arabic, a few are Greek and some are of unknown origin. Many Arabic language star names sprang up after Islam, as translations of ancient Greek language descriptions.

The astronomer Claudius Ptolemy’s book on star descriptions, published in 150 CE, was translated into Arabic in the 8th and 9th centuries by Muslims as the Almagest. Many of the Arabic-language star descriptions in the Almagest came to be used widely as names for stars.

Later Muslim astronomers introduced the use of observatories in the observation of the stars, and discovered many more, which they recorded in various treatises. The most notable of these is the Book of Fixed Stars by Abd Al-Rahman Al Sufi who illustrated all the stars known to him along with their observations, descriptions, positions, magnitudes, brightness, and color.

In Europe, during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, many ancient star names were copied or translated, sometime incorrectly, from Arabic leading eventually to the modern names as we know them.