AAVSO: American Association of Variable Star Observers

History of the Discovery of Mira Stars

Volume 25 number 2 (1997)

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Dorrit Hoffleit
Department of Astronomy

Abstract

This year we celebrate the 400th anniversary of Fabricius' discovery of Mira, "The Wonderful," in 1596. But was he the first? Within the first century following Fabricius, four Mira-type variables were discovered, and in all cases it has been found that the stars were suspected of being novae long before their "official" discovery in the Western World. Three of the four had been recorded as novae in early Chinese or Korean records. By 1896, 251 Mira-type variabes had been discovered, most of them after the beginning of photographic experimentation. Now in the year of the fourth centennial, over 6000 Miras are known. Because of their ease of discovery relative to stars of small amplitude, no new Mira stars reaching naked-eye visibility have been discovered since 1899. The history of the discovery of Mira-type variables illustrates that (1) some new discoveries are re-discoveries of objects previously assumed to be novae; and (2) apparently logical deductions that early observations of a guest star correspond to a later discovered Mire-type may nevertheless be wrong.