Since the passing of David Bowie, Belgian astronomers have announced an unofficial constellation dedicated to the musician, located just below Virgo. The grouping of stars makes out the shape of a lightening bolt, familiarized from the cover of Bowie’s 1973 album, “Aladdin Sane.” But where can you find it and is it truly constellation?The Aladdin Sane tribute is fitting for Bowie’s memory since he was known for crafting songs inspired by astronomical themes. He first found success by way of the single, “Space Oddity,” and later he created the alternate persona, Ziggy Stardust–an extra-terrestrial rock star. He also had hit songs such as “Starman,” and “Life on Mars.”
After Bowie’s death last January, Belgian radio station Studio Brussel and the MIRA public observatory teamed up to pay tribute by way of registering their constellation; however, finding the right place in the sky for the tribute was a difficult task.
Philippe Mollet from the MIRA Observatory stated that “Studio Brussels asked us to give Bowie a unique place in the galaxy…Referring to his various albums, we chose seven stars: Sigma Librae, Spica, Alpha Virginis, Zeta Centauri, SAA 204 132, and the Beta Sigma Octantis Trianguli Australis.”
But is it an official constellation?
First of all, astronomers have already settled on the official 88 constellations that fill our night sky. Astronomers use constellations the same way we use cities, states, and countries–to describe where something is located. Here on Earth, we describe where we are by giving a specific latitude and longitude. In the sky, astronomers use “right ascension” and “declination.” That being said, could we add a new one? In short, not really.
There’s no space in the sky for a new constellation because everything has already been covered. But that doesn’t stop it from being called an “asterism,” i.e., a shape made by stars but not in a region of the sky or constellation. A well known asterism is the Big Dipper. The Big Dipper is actually part of a much larger constellation known as Canis Major.
Below is a video showing where you can find this David Bowie tribute of stars, known as “Aladdin Sane.” It’s composed of 7 stars, and depicts the iconic lightning bolt of Aladdin Sane using the stars Sigma Librae, Spica, Zeta Centauri, SAO 204132, Sigma Octantis, SAO 241641 and Beta Trianguli Australis which were near Mars at the time of Bowie’s death.