Why do people draw stars with five points? (Intermediate)

Why do people draw stars with five points when they are really just balls of gas?

Thoughout history stars have been represented in many different ways. One of the most common today is the 5 pointed star, but 4,6,7,8 and even more points have been used. Some cultures also represented stars more like they are seen in the sky, as dots, or small circles. The 5 pointed star might have originated from the way the Egyptians represented the star in hyroglypics. If you look at a really bright star sometime you might notice that it does appear to have lines coming out from it. These are called diffraction spikes and appear because of the way the light enters your eye which is a small circular hole. (Astronomers are very familiar with diffraction because it provides the fundamental limit to the detail we can make out in distant objects). I suspect that the ultimate origin of the pointed star is those spikes, although that's just an educated guess.

The star symbol has a really rich history, and is often used in a religious context (for example the star of David or the star of Bethlehem). Of course it's also important to US citizens (and citizens of some other countries) as part of their flag. It's actual origin may be lost, but the history would certainly be an interesting subject to research further.


This page was last updated July 18, 2015.

About the Author

Karen Masters

Karen Masters

Karen was a graduate student at Cornell from 2000-2005. She went on to work as a researcher in galaxy redshift surveys at Harvard University, and is now on the Faculty at the University of Portsmouth back in her home country of the UK. Her research lately has focused on using the morphology of galaxies to give clues to their formation and evolution. She is the Project Scientist for the Galaxy Zoo project.

Twitter:  @KarenLMasters
Website:  http://icg.port.ac.uk/~mastersk/

Similar Questions that might Interest You...

Search Our Q&A Archive

Most Popular

Our Reddit AMAs

AMA = Ask Me (Us) Anything