Although the International Astronomical Union recognizes just 88 official constellations, the latest NASA initiative enriched the sky with 21 additional star configurations, one more creative than the other.
These new — and unofficial — constellations are positively stellar and evoke legendary characters, both from the science world and from modern mythology. From Albert Einstein to the Incredible Hulk and the Little Prince of the eponymous French novella, all sorts of famous figures are now mirrored on the sky, alongside iconic objects such as the Eiffel Tower, the Roman Colosseum, and the Fermi satellite itself.
Godzilla was also given its own constellation. The TARDIS, the time-warping police box from Doctor Who, has its own place in the sky as well, and so does the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek.
According to the Business Insider, these picturesque additions to the night sky were created for a very special occasion. Unveiled on Wednesday by the space agency, the new constellations celebrate the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope and its 10 years of activity.
Dubbed gamma-ray constellations, the whimsical configurations honor Fermi’s spectacular achievements and all “have a tie-in to Fermi science,” as noted by Fermi project scientist Julie McEnery of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
“To celebrate the mission’s 10-year anniversary, scientists used Fermi sources to create a set of unofficial gamma-ray constellations,” NASA tweeted on October 18.
Gamma-rays in the sky, seen by our @NASAFermi telescope! To celebrate the mission's 10-year anniversary, scientists used Fermi sources to create a set of unofficial gamma-ray constellations. Explore the interactive map and find them all: https://t.co/m3pF7WHOQT pic.twitter.com/pPtiPfHJY1
— NASA (@NASA) October 19, 2018
“The 21 gamma-ray constellations include famous landmarks — such as Sweden’s recovered warship, Vasa, the Washington Monument and Mount Fuji in Japan — in countries contributing to Fermi science,” explained space agency officials. “Others represent scientific ideas or tools, from Schrödinger’s Cat — both alive and dead, thanks to quantum physics — to Albert Einstein, Radio Telescope and Black Widow Spider.”
If you’re wondering why NASA saw fit to name one of its gamma-ray constellations after the exotic spider, note that the black widow inspired the name of a particularly voracious class of pulsar — which also consumes its companion, the Inquisitr previously reported.
The Black Widow constellation was given a swath of sky in the Southern Hemisphere, where it’s accompanied by Einstein’s portrait, Pharos — the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria — and Mjolnir, the mythical hammer of the Norse god Thor.
Meanwhile, the northern sky hosts its own set of legendary constellations, which include the Saturn V rocket used by Apollo astronauts to fly to the moon, the Fermi satellite, and also Godzilla, the Hulk, and the Enterprise.
While none of these new constellations appear on the night sky, star gazers and space enthusiasts can explore them by navigating the interactive celestial map released on the Fermi website.
“Developing these unofficial constellations was a fun way to highlight a decade of Fermi’s accomplishments,” McEnery pointed out.
Since its 2008 launch, the car-sized spacecraft has revealed to the world an impressive array of objects and astronomical phenomena that can only be seen in the gamma-ray spectrum — the highest-energy light in the universe.
The space telescope helped astronomers map the invisible portion of the sky and enabled us to witness the miraculous objects that populate the gamma-ray universe — such as magnificent pulsars, nova bursts, supernova debris, cosmic rays, solar flares, and celestial explosions that had previously slipped beyond our sight.
In its first seven years of activity, Fermi increased the number of detected gamma-ray sources by tenfold, expanding it to about 3,000.
“For the first time ever, the number of known gamma-ray sources was comparable to the number of bright stars, so we thought a new set of constellations was a great way to illustrate the point,” said Goddard’s Elizabeth Ferrara, who led the constellation project.
Fermi is currently preparing a new catalog that is expected to add about 2,000 more sources to the known gamma-ray universe — “further enriching these constellations and enlivening the high-energy sky,” as remarked by Fermi team member Jean Ballet of the French Atomic Energy Commission in Saclay.