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Betelgeuse, Alnitak, and Aldebaran

A quick look at three prominent stars whose precedence dates back to early Medieval Arabian astronomy.


Betelgeuse

Betelgeuse (pronounced in America as if it were written “beetle juice,” and in other English countries as “betel-JUZ”) is a very bright variable star visible in our night sky.

Its name “Betelgeuse” is a derivation (Latinization) of its original Arabic name, Ibt al-Jauzā, meaning “The Armpit of Orion.”

Ibt al-Jauzā

Details

  • Right Ascension: about 4h 35m 55s.
  • Declination: about +16° 30′ 33″.
  • Absolute / Apparent Magnitude: -6 / 0.0-1.3

Nomenclature

“The name of Betelgeuse has nothing to do with beetles, beetroot, or juice. Like many or most of our star-names, it comes from an Arabic phrase that got progressively corrupted by European writers who passed it on to each other. Richard Hinckley Allen in his classic book on Star Names (1899, reprinted by Dover in 1963) confidently gives the original as Ibt al Jauzah, “Armpit of the Central One,” and then gives a string of those European variations – Bed Elgueze, Beit Algueze, Bet El-geuze, Beteigeuze, Betelguese, Betelgueze, Betelgeux, Beldengeuse, Bectelgeuze, Bedalgeuze, and Ied Algueuze.”

from Universal Workshop

Recent News

betelgeuse-fading.jpg
The recent dimming of Betelgeuse. Image from the NYTimes.

Betelgeuse is a variable star: its magnitude ranges from 0 to about 1.3 within a specific interval of time. However, since late 2019, Betelgeuse has been dimming far lower than ever recorded before. The diagram above, from an article published on New York Times, shows the recent decrease in the magnitude of the red giant. Astronomers speculate that this dimming is a sign that the star is reaching its last stage in its evolution. See stellar evolution on Wikipedia.

The magnitude of a star, put simply, is a numerical measure of its brightness. As the measure becomes lower, the star is brighter: a -2 is brighter than a -1, a 1 brighter than a 2, and so on. Apparent magnitude is a measure of how bright a star is as it appears in the sky on Earth. Absolute magnitude is distance-adjusted.

Alnitak

Alnitak is one of the three stars in Orion’s Belt. In Arabic, Alnitak (pronounced an-Nitāq) translates to “The Girdle,” or “The Belt,” probably because it is a part of the Belt.

an-Nitāq.

Details

  • Right Ascension: 5h 40m 45s
  • Declination: -01° 56′ 34″
  • Absolute / Apparent Magnitude: -5.26 / 1.77

Nomenclature

In addition to its Arabic name an-Nitāq, the Wikipedia lists a few more Arabic terms for the star.

“Arabic terms include Al Nijād, ‘the Belt’, Al Nasak, ‘the Line’, Al Alkāt, ‘the Golden Grains or Nuts’ and, in modern Arabic, Al Mīzān al Haqq: ‘the Accurate Scale Beam.’

slightly modified from its Wikipedia page.

Note on Pronunciations

In Arabic, when certain letters follow an article like Al, you do not literally say Al and then Nitāq, as its transliterated name would suggest. In this case, you pronounce the Al as if it were An, because an N follows the Al. So, an-Nitāq. The same ruling applies, of course, to other Arabic stars with the same conditions. Alnilam becomes an-Nilam, and so on. This does not apply to names like Ibt Al-Jauza, where the Al and the J do not join sounds, and this applies too for M.

Aldebaran

Aldebaran is a bright star in the Taurus constellation, often depicted as a bull. Unsurprisingly, Taurus is Latin for ‘bull.’ The name Aldebaran is Arabic for “The Follower.”

Details

  • Right Ascension: 4h 35m 55s
  • Declination: +16° 30′ 33″
  • Absolute / Apparent Magnitude: about -0.641 / -2.095

Concluding Thoughts

Aldebaran compared to our Sun. Image from its Wikipedia page.

Medieval Arabian and Middle Eastern astronomy’s influence on the West shows itself almost everywhere we look. Whether we study the historical precedence of our number system, our stars, or even the foundations of Western medicine, we see great streaks of Arabic, Middle Eastern and Islamic influence.

Did you find a mistake? Tell us in the Comments Section below.

By Umit

Founder and co-editor of the Elaboraet writing project.