Editorial Article

Origin of the Star Symbol

Nikolai M Sergienko
Department of ophthalmology, National Medical Academy of Postgraduate Education, Kiev, Ukraine
*Corresponding author:

Nikolai M Sergienko, Department of ophthalmology, National Medical Academy of Postgraduate Education, Kiev, Ukraine, Email: Ukrainenmsmicro@gmail.com


Star symbol, Aberrations, Point spread function, Night sky, Ancient tomb, Hieroglyph

Monochromatic optical aberrations distort the quality of the image on the retina of the eye. The Point Spread Function (PSF) expresses how an eye perceives a point-like source. Ancient Egyptians depicted the shapes of night sky images, practically PSF. As a result the five-pointed stars emerged as an hieroglyph in Egyptian writing texts. The star symbol became popular in the world.

The star symbol emerged in ancient Egypt although until recently there is not even an attempt to explain why and how it could happen. This paper presents a hypothetical explanation. The optical system of the human living eye is far from perfection, at least in comparison with the schematic eye. The main causes of the most influential monochromatic aberrations are the asperity of the refractive surfaces, their decentration and heterogeneity of refractive substances. Though these features were known over 100 years ago, the quantitative estimation of the monochromatic aberrations had been achieved only in the mid 1960’s. It is curious, that 3 authors working independently and using different methods published their papers practically simultaneously receiving similar outcomes [1-3]. Among their important findings a striking fact became evident that the normal emmetropic eye with normal vision possesses the irregular astigmatism of 1.5 D or more. The first aberrometer suitable for clinical application, the Tracey, had been created in Kiev, Ukraine in 1998. Currently, the Tracey is producing in Houston,USA (Tracey Technologies). Aberrometry allowed the determination of the crucial parameter of an eye optical system, namely, the Point Spread Function (PSF) [4]. When an eye watches a point light source like a sky star, an image of irregular shape (PSF) 20-40 microns in size is formed on the retina. This image of the light scattering has several peripheral arrow-like extensions. Their origin may be explained by the lobular structure of the lens of an eye (Figure 1a) [5]. We are accustomed to blurred images from the objects around us and we remain sure that our vision is clear.

Observation of a night sky depends on varying conditions of the endless space and atmosphere, its dense and clarity. Therefore a brightness of stars is often changing, however a picture of PSF remains practically stable because its shape is completely determined by the monochromatic aberrations of the eye’s optical system.

German physicist Herman Helmholtz was the first who made pictures demonstrating how he perceived the point light sources depending on state of accommodation (Figure 1b) [6]. He was the first in Europe however not in the world to depict forms of the PSF.

As well as success in building technology in ancient Egypt, astronomy was also developed. As early as four thousand years ago Egyptian astronomers carefully observed the night sky noting stars and depicting the sky in the same way as they perceived it. Today, we can see their art on ceilings of an ancient tombs: the yellows spots with irregular shape (PSF) on a dark blue background (sky) (Figure 1c). I have found these pictures in one of tombs at Luxor area (Egypt). Practically the drawings of H. Helmhotz and ancient Egyptian painters have the same shape, but depicted in different stiles.

Later the five-pointed star became an hieroglyphs in Egyptian writing texts. Practically, the five-pointed star is nothing else, but stylistic drawing of the early pictures of the stars in a manner how the ancient astronomers perceived them.

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Figure 1. (a) The heterogeneous lobule structure of the lens of the human eye.
(b). Images of the point light source made by H.Helmholtz depending on a state of accommodation.
(c). Images of stars on ceilings of the ancient Egyptian tombs.

The five-pointed stars became popular and used for decorations of houses and tombs. It is hard to claim, but very possible that Jewish people who lived for a long time in ancient Egypt had borrowed the star image. In order to underline an originality of their creative imagination they invent the six-pointed star as a symbol of the nation.

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Figure 2. If the human eye possesses the perfect optical system
how would look : (a) the flag of USA, and (b) Kremlin towers?

Hundreds of years passed and today the star symbols of different shapes are available around us. If the human eye possessed the perfect optical system or if Egyptian astronomers had not been so smart and intelligent, let us imagine, how a) the flags of USA and the b) Kremlin towers in Moscow (Figure 2) would appear.

The origin of the star symbol is associated with the imperfection of the human eye’s optical system, namely influence of monochromatic aberrations.

1. Smirnov M (1961) Measurement of wavefront aberrations of the human eye. Biophysics (RU), 6: 687-703.
2. Van den Brink G (1962) Measurements of geometrical aberrations of eye. Vision research 2 :233-244.
3. Sergienko N (1967) Investigation of depth of focus of eyes with normal visual acuity. VestnikOphthalmol; 6:61-66.
4. Bille J, von Pape U (2004) The development of wavefront technology and its application to ophthalmology. In: Bille J, Harner C, Loesel F Aberration-free refractive surgery. Springer:p. 1–47.
5. Duke-Elder S (1976) System of Ophthalmology, Diseases of the lens and vitreous;glaucoma and hypotonyv.11, London, Henry Kimptonp,12.
6. Helmholtz H (1909) Handbuch der physiologischenOptic., Bd.1., Hamburg- Leipzig.

Published: 10 April 2017

Reviewed By : Dr Daniel Adams, Dr. Bisant Labib,


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