Quilt block names, as we know, often reflect quilters’ observances of life events, society, and day-to-day living. I didn’t know until recently, that the term “variable star” has a rather famous origin.
In science history, the general public often became fascinated by new discoveries, theories, and debates. The term “variable star” describes stars that change in brightness. A significant change from previous theories that stars stayed the same – never varied in brightness (or position!).
“Novae are considered to be a class of variable star, because they flare up suddenly after a long period of being relatively faint, and then they gradually fade back to their former dimness…These variable stars were significant in astronomy because they directly contradicted the ancient view that the stars were immutable, and as a result there was a concerted effort to understand what was driving their fluctuations.”
-- “Big Bang, the origin of the universe” by Simon Singh, pub. Fourth Estate 2004, page 195
The study and popularity of variable stars came about in the late 1700’s and 1800’s, as telescope technology improved and as photography was invented. Photos allowed astronomers to make objective measurements of star brightness instead of relying on subjective views.
Understanding the variable nature of stars - their cycle of heat, expansion, release of energy, cooling, and contraction – helped astronomers understand much more about the universe.
I choose to believe that the public was so enamored of the expression “variable star” during this time, that a quilter named a quilt block after the phenomenon! If you know of a more specific origin, please let me know!
It’s easy to sit here at the beginning of the 21st century and forget that only a short time ago we earthlings didn’t understand basic things about space. But here we are, and there they were, and they left us a legacy in quilting.