Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Astronomy Culture Project

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    Bill Barton

    The people of the world come from a variety of social, educational, and cultural backgrounds. This means that even though they are looking up at exactly the same stars that you are, they see different patterns than you. Even within your own culture there will be differences. People have used the sky as:
    • A calendar, and/or
    • A divination system, and/or
    • A navigational tool, and/or
    • A weather prediction system, and/or
    • A place to honor:
    o Their deities
    o Their ancestors, or
    o Their culture.
    This is a practice that continues to this day.
    This World Asterisms Project is a living project started in June 2021 by the Inclusivity and Diversity Committee of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada as a celebration of the sky cultures of the world: It continues to grow as the process of naming the stars above is an ongoing process. It is also growing as ethnoastronomers and researchers investigate old records and interview elders and recover previously lost sky cultures. The World Asterisms Project has so far examined over 481 of the world’s cultures and recorded 11,326 asterisms including 1,322 telescopic and 428 names of the Milky Way. We have separate lists for names of the Sun, Moon, and Planets from various cultures: 1,567 so far.
    We are stewards of these records and are using the “Two Eyes Seeing” approach pioneered by members of our Halifax Centre of the RASC in their ongoing partnership with the Mi’kmaq people to recover their sky lore: the shared perspectives of astronomers and knowledge keepers. We are doing our best to avoid exonyms and use the names these people use for themselves. We are identifying the asterisms here and whenever possible directing people to representatives of the cultures involved for information on the sky stories or dream lines related to those asterisms.
    This project has six parts which you can download for free:
    Volume One is the World Asterism Project Handbook that lists the more than 11,000 asterisms alphabetically by subject so that you can see how these subjects cross cultures. Whenever possible we describe the star patterns in detail, describe the history behind it when we can, list all the variations in spelling that we have encountered, and list all the names and spelling in the language of the people when possible. We identify the people who first recorded or named these asterisms when possible.
    Volume Two is the World Asterisms Project List which lists the more than 11,000 asterisms with their exact location in the sky (right ascension and declination) with some basic notes on the stars involved. This is provided in both PDF and Excel format so that you can search the lists and create your own lists.
    Volume Three is the World Asterisms Project Sky Cultures Resource List which identifies all the sky cultures that we’ve examined, gives their location in the world, and lists all resources available which can be used to learn more about them.
    Volume Four is the World Asterisms Project Milky Way Names list.
    Volume Five is the World Asterisms Project Solar System Objects Handbook describing the names of the Sun Moon, and Planets.
    Volume Six is the World Asterisms Project Solar System Objects List.
    You can download these for free here:
    We are making this free to facilitate access for researchers, students, and educators.
    This is a work in progress as we add new discoveries and update current ones. We periodically update these volumes on our website as they continue to grow. We have also created a World Asterisms Project Google Drive for researchers involved in this project as partners and supporters. In this drive we keep the current drafts, shared asterism files, and a “new” page which describes current work.
    We are reaching out to the people of the world: If you have information on your sky culture to share, please share it with us. If you are interested in joining our team, contact us and we can add you to the researchers who have access to those lists. If you have any questions, suggestions, or corrections, please contact us and we’d be happy to assist you. This information is being provided free to all, but we encourage you to donate to the RASC to support our work.

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