Variable stars are named using a variation on the Bayer designation format of an identifying label (as described below) combined with the Latin genitive of the name of the constellation in which the star lies. See List of constellations for a list of constellations and the genitive forms of their names.
The current naming system is:
- Stars with existing Greek letter Bayer designations are not given new designations.
- Otherwise, start with the letter R and go through Z.
- Continue with RR...RZ, then use SS...SZ, TT...TZ and so on until ZZ.
- Use AA...AZ, BB...BZ, CC...CZ and so on until reaching QZ, omitting J in both the first and second positions.
- Finally give up on the Roman alphabet after 334 combinations of letters and start naming stars with V335, V336, and so on.
Sample designations are R Coronae Borealis, YZ Ceti, and V603 Aquilae.
Note that the first letter is never further up the alphabet than the second, that is to say no star can be BA, CA, CB, DA or so on.
In the early 19th century few variable stars were known, so it seemed reasonable to use the letters of the Roman alphabet, starting from the letter R so as to avoid confusion with letter spectral types or the (now rarely used) Latin-letter Bayer designations. This system of astronomical naming convention was developed by Friedrich W. Argelander. There is a widespread belief according to which Argelander chose the letter R for German rot or French rouge, both meaning "red", because many variable stars known at that time appear red. However, Argelander's own statement disproves this.
By 1836, even the letter S had only been used in one constellation, Serpens. With the advent of photography the number of variables piled up quickly, and variable star names soon fell into the Bayer trap of reaching the end of the alphabet while still having stars to name. After two subsequent supplementary double-lettering systems hit similar limits, numbers were finally introduced.
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