[FOUNTAIN]Scanning the land for a star

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[FOUNTAIN]Scanning the land for a star

The rating system applied to fence out underage moviegoers and television audiences has its roots in a scale that measured the brightness of stars and other heavenly objects. Hipparchos, a Greek astronomer, is credited with using six different "magnitudes" of brightness to catalog the stars. In the 2d century B.C., on observing their varying degrees of luminosity, he categorized the 1,080 stars then known to exist into six stages of brightness. Twelve of the most salient stars were placed under magnitude 1, and those barely observable with the unaided eye were assigned magnitude 6.

Unfortunately, however, having failed to inscribe his venture on any lasting text, his insight went largely unnoticed until 140 A.D., when Ptolemy, another great Greek scientist, introduced these efforts in his book "Almagest." Henceforth, even the general public began to distinguish the word magnitude, used to measure the brightness of stars, from the more generic term luminosity.

When this practice made its way to Korea is not clear, but a document dating to the 46th year of King Yeongjo, or about the year 1770, employs the concept of classifying the brilliance of stars. A reference in the text says that a star of magnitude 1 shall emit 2.43 times the light of a magnitude 2 star, a magnitude 2 star shall be 2.55 times brighter than the next down the line and a magnitude 5 star shall shine with 1.33 times the brilliance of the least bright object.

Such references to the relative brightness of the stars came more than half a century before the first related research effort in the West, by J. Husher, the British scientist who made similar comparisons in the middle of the 19th century.

The use of rating systems of all sorts has widened to include setting age limits on movie audiences or computer game users, as well as classifying service quality and ranking pricing schemes.

Heading into the final stretch of this presidential campaign, we are witnessing, with due sadness and concern, candidates who are self-proclaimed stars, not to mention a plethora of individuals positioning themselves to catch a bit of the light.

A star of magnitude 1 is said to emit one hundred times the brilliance of a magnitude 6 star. Then surely the burden would be on our shoulders to distinguish the first degree statesman from those candidates, like the dimmest stars, who can barely shine.

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.

by Kim Seok-hwan

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