Presentation #114.02 in the session Dark Sky Heritage and Ethnoastronomy.
The 0.0-magnitude star Vega is easy to spot, but its full Arabic name—an-nasr al-wāqi’, meaning the “Alighting Vulture”—required observing the magnitude 4.3 and 5.2 stars near it. In one Arabian story, the Alighting Vulture aided the nearby Camel Mothers (al-‘awā’idh) in protecting the Young Camel (ar-rub’), a magnitude 5.75 star near the limit of naked-eye visibility. Without a pristine, dark sky to activate the imagination, this story would not have existed, and today we would not be calling that 0.0-magnitude star by the name “Vega”.
Drawing from 6th–10th century CE Arabic texts, this talk showcases the importance of dark skies to the development of the rich cultural traditions of indigenous Arabian astronomy. This original research demonstrates how dark desert skies enabled 4th, 5th and 6th magnitude stars to take prominent roles in the formation of indigenous Arabian star groupings and the stories that gave brighter stars their names.