Not all sector blocks are named equally… and Tau Dewa proved especially confusing for this astronomer.
As both an astronomer and a Star Trek fan I am always like to track how much “real” science makes it into the fiction. Even bits and pieces drawn from reality can add a lot to the authenticity of the storytelling. So when Star Trek Online introduced the new Tau Dewa sector block I was delighted to have more galaxy to explore, but I also was left with a nagging question in the back of my mind.
The confusion arises when one realizes that all the original sector blocks in STO were named after actual stars. And on the surface, Tau Dewa sounds like it fits right in with its neighbors Psi Velorum and Pi Canis, but it has a dirty little secret. While it hides behind a plausible name, it is not a real place!
To get at what’s going on with our latest sector block, we should step back a moment and
So what makes Tau Dewa sound like a real star name? For that we must dig into the arcane nomenclature that is a hallmark of astronomy, a science is rife with obscure, archaic, and downright clumsy rules for naming things.
One of the most prevalent naming conventions for stars was introduced by Johann Bayer in 1603. In this system, stars are organized by constellation and labeled with greek letters in order of their relative brightness. And just to be a bit more obscure, the constellation is written in its genitive form in Latin.
So the brightest star in the constellation Centaurus would be “Alpha Centauri,” while the third brightest in Hydra would be “Gamma Hydrae.”
Easy, right? But what happens when you run out of letters? After all, there are only 24 in the Greek alphabet. This wasn’t much of an issue in the pre-telescope days as people generally were only interested in naming the brightest, easiest to see stars. But as astronomy grew as a science this became more of an issue and the Flamsteed designation was introduced in 1712 which replaced greek letters with numbers, offering a more open-ended system.
Thus the 51st brightest star in Pegasus is dubbed “51 Pegasi” (this was the first ordinary star discovered to have planets).
Of course by then people were already familiar with the names of bright stars like Alpha Centauri, so rather than drop the Bayer designations, it was common to just switch to the Flamsteed numbers starting with the 25th brightest star.
Did I mention that astronomy is rife with obscure, archaic, and downright clumsy rules? This all sounds well and good until you start thinking about how messy things get in the real universe. For instance, once you get to increasingly faint stars, how do you measure them accurately enough to get the correct rank order? What about variable stars, that can change brightness dramatically over days, weeks, or months? Even more current systems for naming stars using long numeric sequences based on their positions have to account for the fact that stars move around over time. Nothing is static, which confounds our desire to put neat labels on everything!
But I digress…
Knowing the format of the Bayer designations should make it obvious that the exotic-sounding sector blocks in Star Trek Online are really just the names of stars in the sky. After all, they mostly follow the format of greek letter + constellation name. A couple of the Sol-adjacent blocks of course bypass this and just use common star names: Sirius and Regulus.
Note that a few of these names come with caveats. For instance, both Beta Ursae and Pi Canis are ambiguous. Ursa and Canis are both double-constellations, coming in “Major” and “Minor” forms. So the real stars would be either “Beta Ursae Majoris” or “Beta Ursae Minoris.” But we can forgive this slight oversight.
Also of note is the distant Gamma Orionis Sector Block, which is so far away in the heart of Borg space that we need a transwarp gate to take us there. However, this star more commonly goes by the name Bellatrix. It is the bright star to the right of Betelgeuse, and forms part of the box defining the constellation Orion. And while it is the most distant star of all the STO sector blocks, it is still only 250 light years away, which puts it rather closer than the Delta Quadrant.
Since launch, Cryptic has introduced two new sector block to bring new content to the game, Orellius, and Tau Dewa. With these it has broken the tradition of using real star names.
The first of these, Orellius, sounds like it might be a latin word, but is a fictional place originally referenced in Deep Space Nine episode “Paradise,” though Cryptic diverged with its own extensive storyline connecting to the Preservers. Name aside, I must admit I am a little curious why this sector block seems to be distorted beyond the simple bounds of Euclidean geometry in the way it must wrap around itself to be adjacent to both the Eta Eridani and Beta Ursae blocks!
The Tau Dewa Sector Block, however, is a little more devious. It sounds like it is a standard Bayer star name, and at first I personally it was a real star in an obscure constellation. There are 88 of them, after all, but as it turns out none of them are “Dewus” or whatever the non-genitive form of “Dewa” would be!
That seems scientifically devious! Or perhaps the sector block was named after a star in a Vulcan constellation. But it perhaps a tad dismaying that Cryptic chose to invent a fake name following real conventions. With 88 constellations to choose from, there are all sorts of cool options available.
Wouldn’t “Tau Volantis” have sounded cool too?
Perhaps if we see additional sector blocks added closer to home we may see a return to real star names for those. It would make the astronomers among us happy.
Dr. Robert Hurt (@AstroRobLA) is the visualization scientist for NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope project at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA, overseeing data visualizations and illustrations for public communications for that and other missions including Kepler, WISE, GALEX, and NuSTAR. He also produces the Hidden Universe podcast series.
This post originally appeared in the Jan-Feb 2103 issue of the Stonewall Fleet Times, the newsletter of the STO Stonewall Fleet, edited by Alistair Moore (@alimac30). Special thanks to alimac30 for providing the banner graphic!
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