Astronomers have selected a new set of shapes for constellations representing stars from sports, entertainment and politics, including a book in honour of Malala Yousafzai and Harry Potter’s glasses for JK Rowling.
The new constellations based on modern day inspirational figures were created in a bid to get more children looking up to the stars and interested in the universe. The new star alignments created by researchers at The University of Birmingham in the UK also honour well-known figures such as tennis star Serena Williams and athlete Usain Bolt.
Some of the other shapes include the boots of Paddington Bear and the trademark round-rimmed glasses worn by Harry Potter. The new constellations were created after research showed that the traditional classical star formations, based on the zodiac and characters from ancient mythology, are failing to inspire children today.
“We really hope these new creations will help people of all ages develop their interest in space and astronomy, working to inspire the next generation of astronomers to take an interest in the field,” said Emma Willett, who led the university’s research team.
There are currently 88 existing constellations officially recognised by the International Astronomical Union. The new creations include well known stars to make it easier to find them in the night sky, researchers said. Although they are not official, children are still invited to attempt to pick them out, they said. The process of developing the new constellations involved a careful analysis of star maps for different regions of the sky by researchers.
They were developed alongside the Big Bang Fair, an annual festival designed to encourage children to take an interest in science and engineering. Beth Elgood, Director of Communications at EngineeringUK, who organise The Big Bang Fair, said: “Stargazing is a great way to spark young people’s interest in the universe and inspire them to find out more.
“Inspiration is at the heart of The Big Bang Fair, where young visitors, their teachers and parents have the chance to get hands-on with engaging STEM activities, workshops and shows and discover where science and maths could take them in the future,” said Elgood. Paddington Bear, in recognition of the author Michael Bond who died in June, is most visible in December, taking in stars including Bellatrix and Betelgeuse, researchers said.
Usain Bolt’s pointing stance is best seen in November and incorporates eight stars including Orionis, Tau Tauri and Aldebaran, they said. Serena Williams’ racket can be seen best in April and takes in Pherkad, which was once half of a binary north star, Kochab, which has a planet and is heavier than Jupiter, and Thuban, which was once the north star.
The Babylonians are thought to have been the first to create constellations, almost 4,000 years ago. The system was adopted by the Ancient Greeks and one of the oldest
descriptions of them comes from a poem written by Aratus in about 270 BC.