Stars with unique names for their celestial companions can help children learn about the universe and make sense of the cosmos, according to new research.
The findings from an international collaboration, published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, may be able to help children distinguish the most common names for the planets, comets and asteroids in the sky.
Among the stars with names that have been named for children, three were named for the celestial companions of one of the planet’s moons: The Great Red Spot, The Carpathians and The Asteroid Belt.
“The constellation names of these celestial companions were chosen based on their similarities to one of our planets,” said the study’s lead author, Prof. Mark A. Pappas of the University of Queensland in Australia.
It’s not clear whether children are more likely to use a constellation name when they are looking for a celestial companion, but the findings indicate they can identify names of planets and comets even if they are not familiar with the names.
Children can be able tell from their own naming choices whether they have the stars and constellations in their lives, and they can be more likely than adults to know the names of celestial companions in the Orion Belt, an arc of stars between the planets of the solar system.
The Orion belt is a group of planets including Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
Astronomers believe the belt contains more than 100,000 bodies of gas, dust and water.
The stars of Orion, in particular, are the most popular names in the belt.
Pappas and his team studied the names chosen by children from the constellation Orion for the following celestial companions: Mars, Enceladus, Cassini, Voyager and Europa.
When children look up the names in a catalog of names, they are more accurate at identifying the names for planets and objects than adults, the researchers said.
If the names are not very familiar, they may not be able identify the names themselves.
“This study is a big step towards identifying the best names for a variety of objects in the system,” said Pappis.
While astronomers are working to identify the best name for asteroids, combs and other celestial objects, the study found that the best constellation names for those objects are also the names given by children.
That could mean that children who learn about stars can be taught the names as well.
Astronomers will need to look further into whether the results are transferable to other celestial systems.
In a study published in 2015, Pappes and his colleagues also looked at how well children could learn the names and locations of other celestial bodies, including planets.
For instance, they found that children could correctly identify the location of Jupiter’s largest moon Io.
But they were unable to identify Jupiter’s most distant moon Europa, which has a smaller orbit.
Another study published earlier this year looked at the names used by students of a constellation for an object in the solar neighborhood, and found that they could recognize some names but not others.
One of the best known constellions for the solar neighbourhood is called The Great Bear.