SkyEye

HMNAO Star Names

In the late 1930s, the Royal Air Force asked H.M. Nautical Almanac Office to produce a navigational almanac similar to The Nautical Almanac but designed for aviators. One novel feature of the resulting publication, The Air Almanac, was that the daily pages could be torn out of the book as required, presumably so that the air crews could simply take a single page on board the aircraft and hence not need to carry a large book.

The RAF insisted that all of the navigational stars, a set of bright and easily-recognisable stars covering the entire sky, in The Air Almanac should have proper names. Two of the fifty-seven did not have classical names: ε Argûs (now ε Carinae) and α Pavonis. In his memoirs, Donald Sadler, then the Superintendent of the HMNAO, says that one of his staff, W. A. Scott, was sent to perform 'a hurried search of the literature' and as a result, they came up with the names Avior and Peacock.

Sadler does not elaborate but Peacock is self-evident since 'pavo' is the Latin for 'peacock' and α Pavonis is the brightest star in that constellation.

Avior is more of a mystery. In Latin, the nearest words are 'avis', meaning 'a bird' and 'avius', meaning 'out of the way, remote, trackless, untrodden'. The Latin 'avis' is the origin of the word 'aviator' but 'avior' can be derived from 'avius' as the comparative form of the adjective; ie, 'more remote/trackless/untrodden'. It may be that the word was coined as a kind of pun, to mean literally 'more remote' but to make the reader think of 'aviator'.