About 370 light years away in the constellation Centaurus is a variable star whose spectrum continues to raise eyebrows. The star is laced with oddball elements like europium, gadolinium, terbium and holmium. Moreover, while iron and nickel appear in unusually low abundances, we get short-lived ultra-heavy elements, actinides like actinium, plutonium, americium and einsteinium. Hence the mystery: How can such short-lived elements persist in the atmosphere of a star? Discovered in 1961 by the Polish-American astronomer Antoni Przybylski, these traits have firmly placed Przybylski’s Star in the Ap class of chemically peculiar stars. Its very name is a cause of continuing conversation.
PRZYBYLSKI'S STAR (HD 101065) Blue dwarf with a peculiar spectrum showing an almost complete absence of vowels.
— FSVO (@FSVO) November 22, 2012
Well, true enough. If Przybylski’s Star is a challenge to understand, it’s also a challenge to pronounce. Charles Cowley (University of Michigan), who offers a detailed analysis of the star online, met Przybylski in 1964, asking him how to say his name. “He obliged me,” Cowley writes, “and I thought I detected a slight “puff” at the beginning of the sound, which Mike Bessel writes is like “jebilskee”, with the “je” as if it ...