255 - Hitler a Star? An Unlikely Map of 'A Better Sky'



Have you ever seen the constellation named ‘The Tyrants’, spanning the stars Robespierre and Kubla Khan, stringing together Hitler, Mussolini and Attila along the way? Or how about the stars Washington, Lincoln and Roosevelt in the constellation ‘United States’? And then there’s the stars Stalin, Lenin and Tolstoi sharing the constellation ‘Russia’….


You’ve seen all of these stars before, you’ve just never heard them called these names. Good thing A.P. Herbert isn’t around anymore to mourn the total oblivion of his plan for renaming the constellations. In 1944, the eccentric Englishman published ‘A Better Sky, or, Name This Star’, a book in which he expounded his proposal to change the names of stars and constellations in order for them to be more recognisable and easier to learn for the contemporary British student.


In 1944, the British government still had other things to worry about than renaming the heavens. Reviewing Mr Herbert’s book in a 1944 issue of The Observatory magazine, G.K. McArthur, retired Instructor-Commander in the Royal Navy, writes: “Should not an attempt be made to persuade the schools to include elementary astronomy and navigation in the curriculum? Here is an opportunity for a keen navigator and zealous reformer like Mr. Herbert; perhaps a more valuable exercise for his brilliant powers than hoisting Hitler and Mussolini with other mortals into the sky.”


Mr Herbert’s attempt to rename the stars was not the first one – equally unsuccesful attempts have been made to change them to the names of Christian apostles, slugs, ships and planes, apparently. Nevertheless, Alan Patrick Herbert can still be remembered for other things: he was a writer, humorist and law reformer, serving in the House of Commons for 15 years and in the Royal Navy during the First and Second World Wars.


He campaigned for modernising the laws on divorce, obscenity and alcohol licensing – once famously taking the House of Commons to court for the (illegal) sale of alcohol on its premises. As a writer, he is best remembered for his ‘Misleading Cases’, satirical law reports of fictional court cases, often written from the point of view of serial litigator A.P. Haddock, and adapted for television by the BBC. He also wrote eight novels and 15 plays, including a light opera.


This map of the heavens renamed has the following constellations –


Canada, The Tyrants, Europe Regained, China, The Airman, The Music Maker, Science, The Gorgeous East, The Story-Teller, The Poet, The Painter, The Islands, The Jester, South America, Australasia, The Player, The Doctor, Russia, The Philosopher, Great Britain, The Statesman, The Soldier, The Traveller, The Sailor, South Africa, The Rebels, The Heroes, King’s Cross, The Children’s Corner, The Women, United States.


I recognise Great Britain as Ursa Major and I suspect The Sailor to be Orion, but that’s as far as it goes, at first glance. A larger map can be viewed by clicking on it, but the names of the individual stars remain not entirely legible.


‘Designer baby’ book trilogy explores the moral dilemmas humans may soon create

How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.

Surprising Science
  • A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
  • It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
  • While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Keep reading Show less

Massive 'Darth Vader' isopod found lurking in the Indian Ocean

The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

A close up of Bathynomus raksasa

SJADE 2018
Surprising Science
  • A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
  • It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
  • The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
Keep reading Show less

Discovery of two giant radio galaxies hints at more to come

The newly discovered galaxies are 62x bigger than the Milky Way.

This image shows most of the giant radio galaxy MGTC J095959.63+024608.6; in red is the radio light from the giant radio galaxy, as seen by MeerKAT. It is placed ontop of a typical image of the night sky.

I. Heywood, University of Oxford / Rhodes University / South African Radio Astronomy Observatory / CC BY 4.0.
Surprising Science
  • Two recently discovered radio galaxies are among the largest objects in the cosmos.
  • The discovery implies that radio galaxies are more common than previously thought.
  • The discovery was made while creating a radio map of the sky with a small part of a new radio array.
Keep reading Show less

The secret life of maladaptive daydreaming

Daydreaming can be a pleasant pastime, but people who suffer from maladaptive daydreamers are trapped by their fantasies.

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Mind & Brain
  • Maladaptive daydreamers can experience intricate, vivid daydreams for hours a day.
  • This addiction can result in disassociation from vital life tasks and relationships.
  • Psychologists, online communities, and social pipelines are spreading awareness and hope for many.
  • Keep reading Show less
    Mind & Brain

    Why it's important to admit when you're wrong

    Psychologists point to specific reasons that make it hard for us to admit our wrongdoing.

    Scroll down to load more…