"of Enki", Sumerian god of waters & of most ancient city of Eridu

Nunki is a hot blue star at the core of Sagittarius ("The Archer"), the constellation of the zodiac that holds the winter solstice. Nunki is the northernmost of the stars that make the bowl of the "Little Dipper," known in some ancient Chinese writings as "The Ladle". Some other Oriental star charts depict this asterism as a "Sacred Shrine" or a temple. The Little Dipper is an upside-down (when viewed from the Northern Hemisphere) five star dipper with its handle stuck into the belt of the Milky Way. Like all Sagittarius' stars, Nunki lies in the direction of the Galaxy's core, and is also near the line of the Ecliptic.

Like the Sun, Nunki is a Dwarf star, although its surface temperature (20,000 kelvins) is roughly twice that of the Sun. Unlike the Sun, Nunki is binary and radiates much of its light in the invisible ultraviolet spectrum. From Earth, it appears to shine as bright as Sirrah or Mirach (both of Andromeda). This is mostly due to its great distance (more than 200 light years away) from our planet. At ten parsecs, if it were placed next to the Sun, it would shine more than 600 times brighter. When we take that into account, to receive the same heat, an "Earth" in the system would have to orbit at a distance half again the size of the orbit of our Pluto.

Typical of its breed, Nunki is a fast spinner, rotating with a speed of over 200 kilometers per second, 100 times that of our Sun. Like the Sun, however, it is a "normal" unevolved star, and shines by the fusion of hydrogen into helium in its deep core. But its mass is so high, seven or so times that of the Sun, and the internal fusion rates so fast, that it cannot live very long, 50 million years at most. How far along its lifeline it is, we do not know, but it cannot have too much left to it. The star will ultimately turn into a white dwarf roughly as massive as the Sun. There is some indication that it has a close companion.

Nunki is an unusual name, of Euphratean (Babylonian) origin - a proper name of unknown significance. It has been identified with Nunki of the Euphratean Tablet of the Thirty Stars, "the Star of the Proclamation of the Sea", or the "Voice from the Sea" (indicating direction, guidance, instruction), and portended favorable events for mariners and shipping. In Latin, Nunki is called Pelagus ("sea"). The Greeks gave the stars of each constellation letter names, in order of brightness. Thus, given the fact that "Sigma Sagittarii" is now the second-brightest star in the constellation, the order of brightness must have changed over the years. Sigma (Nunki), with zeta (Ascella), and pi (Albadah), may have been the Akkadian Gu-shi-rab-ba, "the Yoke of the Sea".

In ancient Arabia the two small groups of stars now marking the head and the vane of the Archer's arrow were noteworthy as relics of still earlier asterisms, as well as a lunar station. The westernmost of these — gamma (Alnasl), delta (Kaus Medius), epsilon (Kaus Australis), and eta — were Al Na'am al Warid, the Going Ostriches; and the easternmost — sigma (Nunki), zeta (Ascella), phi, chi, and tau, — Al Na'am al Sadirah, the Returning Ostriches; passing to and from the celestial river, the Milky Way, with the star lamda (Kaus Borealis) for their Keeper. All of the foregoing stars were included in the Arabic 18th manzil, Al Na'am. They were attributed with influences over the taming of wild beasts, the strengthening of prisons, the destruction of a society's wealth and the desires of men to travel to certain places.

In India this star marked the junction of the nakshatra Ashadha with Abhijit. The Archer is associated with the Hebrew letter Vau and the 6th Tarot Trump "The Lovers". According to Ptolemy, Nunki is of the nature of Jupiter and Mercury; to Alvidas, of the nature of Saturn and Mercury. It was thought to give truthfulness, optimism and a religious mind.

  • The Fixed Stars and Constellations in Astrology, Vivian E. Robson 1923, Ascella Publications, UK, ISBN: 1 898503 50 8.
  • Starnames, Their Lore and Meaning, Richard Hinchley Allen, 1889, Dover Publications 1963. ISBN 0-486-21079-0.
  • The Living Stars, Dr Eric Morse, 1988, Amethyst Books, ISBN 0-944256-02-3.

{Kings of Sumeria}

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