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NASA’s Fermi Space Telescope team has devised a set of modern constellations built from gamma-ray sky sources to celebrate the ten years of the mission.
A constellation, in astronomy, is a conventional grouping of stars, whose position in the night sky is apparently invariable.
Ancient civilizations decided to link them by imaginary lines, thus creating virtual silhouettes on the celestial sphere.
In the vastness of space, however, the stars of a constellation are not necessarily locally associated; and they can be hundreds of light years away from each other.
Furthermore, these groups are completely arbitrary, since different cultures have devised different constellations, even linking the same stars.
That’s why Fermi scientists have come up with new futuristic interpretations of constellations.
Long ago, ancient sky watchers linked the brightest stars in patterns that reflected animals, heroes, monsters and even scientific instruments in what is now an official collection of 88 constellations.
What Fermi does
Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT) has been passionately observing and scanning the entire sky each day. These meticulous observations have allowed scientists to map and measure sources of gamma rays, which are considered the highest-energy light in the universe.
These emissions may originate from pulsars, nova outbursts, the debris of supernova explosions and giant gamma-ray bubbles located in our own galaxy, or supermassive black holes and gamma-ray bursts — which are considered the most powerful explosions in the cosmos — in others.
“By 2015, 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.”
Fermi “Gamma Ray” Constellations
And they total 21 modern interpretations.
As explained by NASA’s Goddard Media Studios, “The 21 gamma-ray constellations include famous landmarks in countries contributing to Fermi science. Others represent scientific ideas or tools, from Schrödinger’s Cat — both alive and dead, thanks to quantum physics — to Albert Einstein, Radio Telescope and Black Widow Spider, the namesake of a class of pulsars that evaporate their unfortunate companion stars.”
To see how cool the new constellations would look in the night sky, scientists have presented a web-based interactive map showcasing the constellations on an image of the whole gamma-ray sky mapped by Fermi.
“Developing these unofficial constellations was a fun way to highlight a decade of Fermi’s accomplishments,” said Julie McEnery, the Fermi project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “One way or another, all of the gamma-ray constellations have a tie-in to Fermi science.”
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