Southern Cross star given new name to recognise Aboriginal astronomy- Prosyscom

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Until last month, the smallest star in the Southern Cross had the no-nonsense title of Epsilon Crucis – literally the fifth-brightest star of the Cross.

No longer. The International Astronomical Union has announced it will be given a new, additional common name: Ginan, the name it has been called for thousands of years by the Wardaman people of the Northern Territory.

Ginan is about 228 light years from Earth. It “represents a red dilly-bag filled with special songs of knowledge”, Monash University astronomer Duane Hamacher writes on The Conversation.

The star is one of four the astronomical union will now recognise by their Aboriginal names, as part of a wider project to give the stars in our sky proper titles. Epsilon Scorpii, located in the constellation Scorpius, has been renamed Larawag; in the Phoenicis constellation there is now a Wurren; and in Canis Majoris (the Great Dog) a star has been named Unurgunite.

People all over the planet have different names for the same stars. But none of them has ever been officially recognised.

The astronomical union – the international body responsible for naming celestial objects – recognises many stars using their Bayer designation, meaning they are named by what constellation they are from, and how bright they are within that constellation, writes Mr Hamacher. Hence, Epsilon Crucis.

But recently the union has recognised the system fails to capture the importance of stars to people, and so has been working to give hundreds of them proper human names.

“These names help ensure that intangible astronomical heritage from skywatchers around the world, and across the centuries, is preserved for use in an era of exoplanetary systems,” the union said in a statement announcing the new names.

Larawag, Wurren and Ginan are all Wardaman star names, while Unurgunite comes from the Boorong people of Western Victoria.

“Larawag is the signal watcher, noting when only legitimate participants are present and in view of the ceremony,” writes Mr Hamacher.

“Wurren means ‘child’ in Wardaman. In this context it refers to the ‘Little Fish’, a child of Dungdung – the life-creating Frog Lady.

“In Boorong astronomy, Unurgunite is an ancestral figure with two wives. The moon is called Mityan, the quoll. Mityan fell in love with one of the wives of Unurgunite and tried to lure her away.

“Unurgunite discovered Mityan’s trickery and attacked him, leading to a great fight in which Mityan was defeated. The moon has been wandering the heavens ever since, the scars of the battle still visible on his face.”

After millions of years of wandering the heavens without proper names,  Larawag, Wurren, Ginan and Unurgunite can finally take their proper place above us.

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