NASA scientists have re-envisioned the shapes in the night sky using data from the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, putting a modern twist on the age-old practice.
Unlike the official 88 constellations, however, which are made up of recognizable forms created by the brightest stars, the new constellations map out the highest-energy form of light in the universe: gamma rays.
The space agency has released an interactive website showing the different gamma-ray constellations in the sky, revealing everything from the Albert Einstein to the USS Enterprise.
‘Developing these unofficial constellations was a fun way to highlight a decade of Fermi’s accomplishments,’ said Julie McEnergy, the Fermi project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
‘One way or another, all of the gamma-ray constellations have a tie-in to Fermi science.’
According to NASA, some of the characters in the new constellation came about as the result of a gamma-ray experiment gone wrong.
The series includes the Little Prince, the TARDIS from ‘Doctor Who,’ Godzilla and his heat ray, the antimatter-powered U.S.S. Enterprise from ‘Star Trek: The Original Series’ and the Hulk, along with several landmarks from countries involved in the Fermi project.
Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT) has been surveying the sky every day since July 2008 measuring gamma rays.
These are emitted by all sorts of cosmic phenomena, including pulsars, nova outbursts, gamma ray bursts, and supermassive black holes.
The number of different sources mapped by Fermi’s LAT had expanded to about 3,000 – 10 times the number known before the mission,’ said Goddard’s Elizabeth Ferrara, who led the constellation project.
‘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.’
The 21 gamma-ray constellations also include Sweden’s recovered warship, Vasa, the Washington Monument, and Mount Fuji in Japan, as well as an array of people and concepts important to the scientific community.