Saturday, April 9, 2022

Rotanev, Sualocin and the mystery of the constellation of the Dauphin

Rotanev and Sualocin are the two brightest stars in the constellation of the Dauphin. Although they are nothing exceptional to the naked eye (they are both about the fourth apparent magnitude), the two stars are the protagonists of one of the most amusing and bizarre cases in the history of astronomy.

To understand what we are talking about we take a step back in 1814, when the names Sualocin and Rotanev made their entry into history. The two names appeared for the first time in a stellar catalogue compiled by Giuseppe Piazzi from the Palermo Observatory in the early 1800s. In the following years many astronomers were puzzled by the origin of these two names. They were not Greek, Arab or Latin and did not seem to refer to any particular word. The mystery went on for a few decades, until in the middle of the century the English astronomer Thomas Webb thanks to a careful detective work managed to solve the mystery.

/Webb discovered that the names of the two stars read backwards gave Nicolaus and Venator. If you know a little Latin you will be able to immediately grasp their translation: Nicolò Cacciatore.

Webb then discovered that the assistant who helped Piazzi compile the catalogue was called Nicolò Cacciatore!

The names of the two stars, initially proposed as a game, have not been changed and today, more than two centuries later, the lucky Sicilian astronomer has two stars named in his honor!

[First photo: Rotanev. Second photo: Sualocin]

Credit: TheSkyLive.com.

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