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In Hal Clement's short story "Hot Planet" (freely available to read online), a group of scientists and engineers are engaged in a mission on the surface of Mercury. Their ship is called the Albireo, and we get an idea of its appearance from the illustration on the cover of the magazine where this story appeared:

Galaxy magazine, August 1963

The name seemed curious to me, with a hint of Spanish or Italian, so I looked it up and discovered that it's a double star in the constellation of Cygnus. I couldn't figure out the significance (if any) of this name in the story, since the ship's mission isn't an interstellar one.

Is there any particular reason or significance of the name Albireo for the ship in this story?

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  • He picked some odd ship names throughout. Feb 3 at 17:28
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    It was also the name of the spaceship in "Dust Rag". Maybe Clement just liked the sound of it. Feb 3 at 17:40
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    Hal was an amateur astronomer and high school science teacher. Albireo is one of the classic double stars to show students in the northern hemisphere since it is bright, gets high in the Summer sky, is easily separated even in a small instrument, and shows a very strong color difference between its two obvious components. And it sounds good. It makes a great astronomical name.
    – Mark Olson
    Feb 3 at 17:52
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    The Polaris missile had no interstellar capability. NASA's Project Mercury was not an interplanetary mission, and Mars Bars are sold only on planet Earth. The Miss Universe contestants are all Earth girls, although Jack Vance wrote a funny story about that. Sometimes a name is just a name.
    – user14111
    Feb 3 at 23:41
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    I think @Organic Marble is right - there's also "Vindemiatrix" in Close to Critical. I think the theme is "cool-sounding star names". Feb 4 at 20:19
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OK, I'll give it a try.

Hal got his bachelor's' degree in astronomy and was an amateur astronomer and high school science teacher all his life. He loved astronomy and gave public talks on it whenever he could, especially at science fiction conventions. Consequently, he used astronomy in most of his stories and used interesting names from astronomy whenever possible.

In this case, Albireo is the name of one of the classic northern hemisphere double stars shown to students and the public at start parties since it is bright, gets high in the Summer sky, is easily split even in a small instrument, and shows a very strong color difference between its two obvious components. And the word sounds good. It makes a great astronomical name.

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