Thursday 25 August 2016

Star-Gayzing : Starman

In several of my previous “Star-Gayzing” articles I’ve mentioned how some constellations have been created or removed by the simple alteration of the imaginary boundaries we put on them. One of those lost is the constellation created to honour the Emperor Hadrian’s lover Antinous.

The International Astronomical Union has been regulating all of the allocated constellations since 1922 and no new ones have been created. But that doesn’t stop people from creating what you could call “honorary constellations”, and one of the most recent was created in honour of the late musician David Bowie (1947-2015).

David Bowie became an iconic figure in the 1970s and 1980s. His gender-bending persona shifted with every new album, and many lgbt people saw him as an influential community hero. Like his musical persona Bowie’s sexuality shifted according to the decade in which he lived.

It took Belgian astronomers less than a week after Bowie’s death to come up with an “honorary constellation” to honour him. The idea seems actually to have come from a Belgian radio station called Studio Brussels. They contacted the MIRA Public Observatory in Grimbergen, Belgium, and asked if astronomers could honour Bowie with a constellation. The fact that an asteroid was named after him in January 2015 (no. 342843 Davidbowie) seems to have gone unnoticed in the media.

No doubt Studio Brussel, as a music station, had Bowie’s interplanetary music in mind. With song titles like “Space Oddity” and “Starman” it is easy to understand why. So what shape should the new constellation take? Another obvious idea was the famous lightning bolt design which Bowie sported (below) on the cover of his album “Aladdin Sane”. So the quest was on to find stars in the right configuration.

The staring point was the planet Mars, as featured in Bowie’s song “Life on Mars?”. As a planet Mars moves across the sky and isn’t fixed, so astronomers couldn’t use that. But they did use it as a marker for the stars at the top of the constellation. The astronomers chose the brightest star nearest to Mars on the day Bowie died as their prim marker. That star was Spica in the constellation Virgo.

From that starting point the Belgian astronomers searched for six others stars to form the other corners of the Bowie lightning bolt. The end result is what you see below. There is “before and after” view of the same part of the night sky where the Starman constellation can be found. On the left (before) are the official constellations with some of them named and Mars indicated, and on the right (after) is Starman outlined in red.

Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to see the whole constellation in the northern hemisphere because it is so long and large and covers a huge area of the night sky. The bottom stars are only visible from the southern hemisphere (where the constellation in upside down!).

No comments:

Post a Comment