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How Starman has been immortalised in space

ByLynda-Marie Taurasi

Jan 28, 2016

Image: Flickr user ‘garann’

Even in death, David Bowie remains a star. The Brixton-born singer and actor died in New York City, from cancer, at the age of 69 on January 10. His death came two days after his birthday and the release of his album, Blackstar. The album is currently topping the charts in the UK.

Stars and space were prominent themes throughout Bowie’s five-decade long career with such song titles as: ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Life on Mars’, and, ‘The Prettiest Star’ listed in his discography. Now, seven stars in space will pay homage to Bowie, thanks to Belgian astronomers at the Monterey Institute for Research in Astronomy (MIRA) Public Observatory who have requested a constellation in his memory. The constellation is fitting both in its delineation of a lightning bolt and its close proximity to Mars. Its shape symbolises the iconic 1973 album Aladdin Sane where Bowie appeared on the cover with a lightening bolt painted across his face. Early in his career, Bowie adopted the stage persona of an extra-terrestrial rockstar named Ziggy Stardust and released the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars.

The idea for a Bowie constellation initially came from Belgium radio station, Studio Brussel, who contacted MIRA Public Observatory wanting to do a special tribute for the late-singer. The chosen stars are Sigma Librae, Spica, Alpha Virginis, Zeta Centauri, SAA 204 132, and the Beta Sigma Octantis Trianguli Australis. However, the Observatory is quick to point out that the cluster is not actually a constellation but rather an asterism. As noted in the announcement on MIRA’s website, a constellation is a section of the celestial sphere formally designated by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), and there are a total of 88 constellations in the entire northern and southern sky. Asterisms are the lines connecting different stars into a shape, like the ‘Big Dipper’, and the stars that make the shape could be part of one or many constellations. People often misuse the word constellation when referring to an asterism.

So, there is not actually a Bowie constellation after all, and MIRA also clarified in the announcement that the asterism memorialising Bowie is solely a symbolic gesture and not official. However, that does not make it any less of an appropriate memorial.

The asterism is part of the Stardust for Bowie tribute project, an interactive website that allows Bowie fans to use Google Sky to not only identify the asterism but also pick one of the seven stars to assign their favourite Bowie song. They can then share their star, song, and message on Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #stardustforbowie.

The website also takes you to a playlist created by Studio Brussel where the station’s DJs have listed their favourite David Bowie songs in order. The playlist is also available to download via Spotify and includes a ‘must listen’ version of ‘Heroes’  which Bowie sang in Dutch.

By Lynda-Marie Taurasi

MSc student, Science Communication and Public Engagement

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