A frequently-famous but officially unrecognized group of stars - the well-known Big Dipper is not a constellation but (as an element of Ursa Major) an asterism.

When impurities (inclusions) in a gemstone line up with the crystal structure of the stone in such a way as to make an asterisk shape show up in a different color against the main color of the stone. These "star" gems (such as star sapphires) are usually cut as cabochons rather than faceted. Related to chatoyancy and aventurescence.

An asterism is a set of three asterisks (*) placed in a triangle (⁂). It is used, albeit infrequently, to indicate a break in a text, such as a chapter break, a subchapter, or a scene shift. It is becoming more and more common to use three asterisks in a line (***) for this purpose; this line is formally known as a dinkus.

Historically, from the mid 1600s to the mid 1800s, the asterism was used more generally to draw attention to a passage of interest, including marginalia. This is rarely, if ever used in print in the modern era.

The asterism has been also been used to indicate a null field, especially to indicate the title of an untitled work or to indicate an unknown author. This was particularly common in the filed of music, and may have been popularized to some extent by the use of Russian music critic César Antonovich Cui, who used the asterism as his nom de plume.


Unicode character U+2042; HTML code ⁂

As`ter*ism (#), n. [Gr. , fr. star; cf. F. ast'erisme.]

1. Astron. (a)

A constellation.

[Obs.] (b)

A small cluster of stars.

2. Printing (a)

An asterisk, or mark of reference.

[R.] (b)

Three asterisks placed in this manner, &asterism;, to direct attention to a particular passage.

3. Crystallog.

An optical property of some crystals which exhibit a star-shaped by reflected light, as star sapphire, or by transmitted light, as some mica.


© Webster 1913.

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