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Thread: Constellation Abbreviations: Where did they come from?

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    Default Constellation Abbreviations: Where did they come from?



    During its Rome convention in 1922, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) formalized and adopted the modern list of 88 constellations that we know today. I am sure most have also noticed the three letter abbreviations that can often be found in sky atlases for each of these constellations. The list of these abbreviations were also formalized and approved at the same convention.

    However, that was not done without at least some debate about whether to utilize a two-letter or three letter format. Each methodology had its own sponsor, two names that many will be familiar with, Danish astronomer Ejnar Hertzsprung and American Henry Norris Russell. These names should sound familiar because of the famous Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram, seen here: https://www.wwu.edu/skywise/a101_hrdiagram.html

    You can read at the below links how this all came about, and how Russell tried to give Hertzsprung some credit for the three-letter version as well. Hertzsprung eventually disowned any link to Russell's model, voicing his preference for the two-letter method that he had utilized for years personally.

    So today, we have Henry Norris Russell to thank for the list. Well, him and of course the members of the IAU's Units and Notations Comittee who tweaked and fine tuned the list to its present condition.

    On a personal note, having looked at the two-letter method preferred by Hertzsprung (link below) and comparing it to the three-letter format that I've been used to all my life, I can fully understand why it was chosen. I think it just makes a little more sense and is easier to interpret. I hope you enjoy this little bit of astro-history.


    IAU Constellations: IAU constellation list 1

    (Note: Interestingly Russell included the defunct constellation Argo in his list [total of 89] while also including its parts, Carina, Puppis and Vela. Obviously that was one of the tweaks performed by the committee - excise Argo. Well that and correct the typo of "Corono Borealis!")


    Hertzsprung's two-letter abbreviations: Hertzsprung’s two-letter abbreviations


    Hertzsprungs's letter dis-owning any credit for the three-letter method: Hertzsprung’s letter
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    Default Re: Constellation Abbreviations: Where did they come from?

    Thank you for the links Alan, some interesting reading
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    Default Re: Constellation Abbreviations: Where did they come from?

    Interesting...especially the Hertzsprung denial letter. Thanks for the education!

    Dave
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    Default Re: Constellation Abbreviations: Where did they come from?

    Fascinating - elements may end up in a talk at our Astro Soc.
    Thanks
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    Default Re: Constellation Abbreviations: Where did they come from?

    Thanks, Alan! Great information!
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    Default Re: Constellation Abbreviations: Where did they come from?

    Quote Originally Posted by Gabby76 View Post
    Thank you for the links Alan, some interesting reading
    Glad you enjoyed it Gabrielle.

    Quote Originally Posted by combat48 View Post
    Interesting...especially the Hertzsprung denial letter. Thanks for the education!

    Dave
    Thanks Dave. I feel his denial serves mainly to highlight his ego. Whereas Russell seemed more than happy to share the credit for the model adopted by the IAU, Hertzsprung wanted no part of that.

    I suppose one could look at that a couple of ways. On the one hand Hertzsprung could have simply been repaying Russell's magnanimous gesture of including him in the credit, by insuring that Russell received full credit for a method that was indeed his idea. On the other hand it could be interpreted as an egotistical move on his part, by trying to distance himself from a method he saw as unwarranted since he had utilized the two-letter designations himself for years and they were perfectly fine for his use.

    Ultimately it doesn't matter. We are left with a set of abbreviations for our constellations that have been in place for nearly 100 years. I just find it interesting all the little twists and turns that are sometimes involved in getting to where we are today.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gfamily View Post
    Fascinating - elements may end up in a talk at our Astro Soc.
    Thanks
    Thank you, and hope others there find it an interesting aside to our hobby.

    Quote Originally Posted by bladekeeper View Post
    Thanks, Alan! Great information!
    You're welcome Bryan. Hope you found it an interesting piece of astro-history.
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