Stellar ideas

One of my main tasks these days is to edit and write teaching materials to accompany interactive online science lessons for middle-schoolers. While working on an update for a lesson dealing with why seasons change, I got to thinking about precession (Earth’s slow, top-like “wobble,” or change in rotational-axis direction) and the fact that the so-called North Star will be anything but in a few millennia. Earth completes one precessional cycle every 25,771.5 years, so in about 14,000 CE, Vega–the fourth-brightest star in the sky–will be the North Star.
I was joking with my dad that in the distant future, the real name today’s North Star is stuck with, Polaris, won’t make a hell of a lot of sense to putative astronomy-buffs-in-the-making. He responded by saying that the history books will show that the star was named after a 20th-century snowmobile.
That got me thinking about other products named after heavenly bodies. Using my dad’s logic, Earth’s satellite will have proven to have gotten its name from either a former NFL quarterback or an energy bar. The nearest planet to the sun was named after a toxic metal or a make of automobile. The “red planet” was named after a candy bar; the planet known for its rings got its handle from a car made by Dodge; and a recently declassified planet was named after the more intelligent of Disney’s two famous canines.
Moving further outward, the brightest star in the sky was named after a provider of satellite radio, the aforementioned fifth-brightest after a manufacturer of helmets, and the ninth-brightest after an 80’s flick starring Michael Keaton in a whimsical and energetic role. The second-brightest star in the constellation known as “the Southern Cross” was named after a mixed drink; the two brightest stars in Gemini got their labels from a couple of felonious brothers in a Nicolas Cage vehicle.
There’s even a star called in Orion called Bellatrix. So close (even on the keyboard) and yet so far.
When you think about it, this scheme is no sillier than the idea that God created human beings and not the other way around. Anyway, I’ll stop now.

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  1. #1 by Gingerbaker on March 19, 2009 - 9:27 am

    Bellatrix L’Estrange is a character in a Harry Potter book (J.K. has an impish sense of humor) so that’s a win too. :)

  2. #2 by Gingerbaker on March 19, 2009 - 9:27 am

    Bellatrix L’Estrange is a character in a Harry Potter book (J.K. has an impish sense of humor) so that’s a win too. :)

  3. #3 by Pierce R. Butler on March 19, 2009 - 10:27 am

    The future north star was named after a neo-folk singer/songwriter?
    At least two constellations were named after different models of automobile.
    Earth’s (largest) satellite was named after a preacher man!
    It wasn’t just the fourth planet that was named after a candy bar – it was the entire galaxy!
    And the 7th planet – well, you know…

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