Star Names

21 Sep 2010 00:07
Last Modified
3 Jan 2011 13:41

I wanted to add labels to the brighter background stars. Stars are commonly identified using multiple designations, including:

  1. Common names
  2. Bayer names
  3. Flamsteed names
  4. Catalogue identifiers such as Hippacos, Henry Draper etc

In this way, the same star may be referred to as Belelgeuse, α Orionis, 58 Orionis, HIP27989, and HD39801 respectively. Since each designation is used for a varying group of stars, a given star may have a varying number of designations.

I chose to start with Bayer names, since there are a reasonable number of these (approximately 1500), and they would also serve as a good reference to add definitions of constellations and asterisms at a later date. The first step was to build a suitable list, which was greatly helped by the availability in the public domain of cross-references between designations.

I previously discussed a couple of approaches to text rendering for deep sky object labels, and I took a similar approach here. Since I was using wireframe labels, I needed to add a further set of vector definitions for the Greek alphabet. Unfortunately, these characters are not included in the "Modern", "Roman", and "Script" Windows fonts. However, other definitions are available in the public domain, such as the Hershey fonts developed in the 1960s by Dr. A. V. Hershey at the US Naval Weapons Laboratory.

Numeric superscripts are also used in the Bayer system. These may be used to distinguish stars with the same Greek letter, such as (typically optical) binaries, however there are some exceptions such as the chain of stars π1, π2, π3, π4 and π5 Orionis. I therefore needed to further extend the wireframe font rendering to support superscripts. An initial screenshot is shown in Figure 1.

Bayer labels

Figure 1. Bayer star names, in the region of Orion

One of the remaining issues, now highlighted by the larger number of names, is dealing with overlapping labels. Culling labels on the CPU, either by magnitude for wide fields-of-view, or when not visible outside narrow fields-of-view might be a useful approach, and will be investigated at a later date.


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