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New Blog! Rockin’ the Planet: Davidbowie 342843

September 24th, 2017 | by Sandra Flowers
New Blog! Rockin’ the Planet: Davidbowie 342843
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@NASASolarSystem @PlanetQuest
He has loosed the bounds of Earth
and made good his escape ! pic.twitter.com/Qep8VKfn8X


Immediately following David Bowie’s death, the Internet was filled with rumors of a star or a constellation being named in his honor.  As with all rumors, this one contains a grain of truth, but the full story is considerably more complex.

In this day of “fake news” and the Internet’s ability to keep published information in circulation indefinitely, it’s especially important that the story of David Bowie’s celestial presence be reported accurately. With this consideration in mind, I set out to clarify for myself some of the story’s contradictions and points I found as I first heard it. If you’ve also found aspects of the story confusing, you may find some of the information I discovered enlightening.


WHAT ON EARTH (OR NOT) IS “DAVIDBOWIE 342843 YN3”?

To begin with, yes, there really is a celestial object in the sky named for David Bowie. Its official name, Davidbowie 342843 2008 YN3 (Davidbowie 342843 for short), was bestowed by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) on 5 January 2015, a full year before Starman’s death.

I emphasize this point because it’s so at odds with the Daily Mail’s report of a constellation consisting of “seven stars that were recorded the same day of [Bowie’s] death.” Rolling Stone published a shorter version of this same misinformation (Belgian Astronomers Pay Tribute to David Bowie with New Constellation) as did innumerable other news organizations.

Regardless of the repeated error in the reports by news organizations and in countless Twitter tweets, Davidbowie 342843 is something impressive in its own right—a planet! A “minor planet,” to be sure, but a planet all the same (Minor Planet Names: Alphabetical List).

The United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has posted this interactive diagram  on the movement of planets. (Google Chrome has stopped supporting this technology, so switch to Internet Explorer or another browser.) In this diagram, the Starman’s planet is engaged in its ordained orbit. When you press the forward button on the slider in the bottom left-hand corner of the diagram, the planet orbits the sun counter-clockwise and the date changes to reflect the 4+ years it takes the planet to orbit the sun.

WHAT ABOUT NAMING PLANETS—CAN A PRIVATE CITIZEN DO THAT?

The short answer is “yes.”

However, IAU notes on its website that 800 planets have been found beyond the Earth’s Solar System over the years, “with thousands more waiting to be confirmed” (Can One Buy the Rights to Name a Planet?).

The IAU stresses that it “does not consider itself as having a monopoly on the naming of celestial objects — anyone can in theory adopt names the way they choose.”

Even so, IAU cautions that “given the publicity and emotional investment associated with these discoveries, worldwide recognition is important and the IAU offers its unique experience for the benefit of a successful public naming process….” (Naming of exoplanets).

SO IF DAVIDBOWIE 342843 IS A PLANET, WHERE’S THE STARMAN’S CONSTELLATION?

Well, actually, there isn’t one. At least not a scientifically recognized one with physical stars.

Belgium’s Studio Brussels radio station and its MIRA Public Observatory supposedly “registered a constellation shaped like a lightning bolt in honor of David Bowie” (David Bowie: astronomers give the Starman his own constellation, The Guardian). While the IAU has no record of such a transaction, the deal is quite in line with Star-Registration.com’s offer to sell me the Big Dipper constellation (known as the Plough in the UK) for US$59.95 delivered within 24 hours.

Neither of these transactions reflects the IAU’s description of how constellations are named, identified, and distinguished from each other. As explained by IAU,

Originally the [88 constellations recognized by the IAU] were defined by the shapes made by their star patterns, but as the pace of celestial discoveries quickened in the early 20th century, astronomers decided it would be helpful to have an official set of constellation boundaries. One reason was to aid in the naming of new variable stars, which brightened and fade rather than shine steady. Such stars are named for the constellation in which they reside, so it is important to agree where one constellation ends and the next begins (The Constellations).

BOTTOM LINE: IT’S ALL RIGHT TO NAME CELESTIAL BODIES YOURSELF, RIGHT?

Well, it isn’t illegal, so it’s all right in that way.

Still, five days after its supposed registration of the lightning bolt constellation, Phillipe Mollet of the MIRA Public Observatory issued a statement explaining that he was merely trying to establish a virtual constellation, “all very symbolic, nothing official.”

He went on to acknowledge the 88 constellations recognized by IAU but insisted that “constellations are just pieces of the sky…. the lines connecting different stars” like “the game little childrens [sic] play: ‘connect the dots.’”

There’s more to Mollet’s explanation, including parts I don’t understand at all, such as the unnamed albums representing stars and “the heavenly position on which the planet Mars was upon his death.”

What I did like, though was Mollet’s “Stardust for Bowie” website. Fans go to the website, click anywhere within the lightning bolt outline to enter their name, the title of a favorite Bowie song, and a personal message to the Starman if they wish, all of which make the virtual constellation glow more brightly.

STARDUST FOR BOWIE

Sounded like fun to me, so I took them up on the offer. Twice. Once under my own name and then again under my revisingmyself Twitter handle.

How about giving it a try so your location will show up online afterwards. Let’s sparkle for him.


Thanks for exploring this post. I hope it provided useful information and that you’ll visit some of my other David Bowie News posts in the blog section. I’m also on Twitter @revisingmyself. There I tweet mostly about Bowie but I also play excellent R&B and jazz as well as providing thought-provoking information on popular culture, current events, and history. And while you’re there, be sure to visit my growing collection of Collections (Uhmm…is there a better way to say that?). Be safe, God bless.

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