Gamma-Ray Constellations

Throughout history and across many cultures, people have been identifying pictures in the stars they could see, which led to the modern 88 constellations which most people are familiar with today. Those constellations reflect the things that were iconic at the time of their recording: the ancient Greeks saw heroes and monsters, European explorers saw sextants and compasses, and so on.

In October 2018, to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, Fermi project scientists created a set of 21 constellations [1] that spans the night sky. But these constellations don't use stars — they use sources of gamma rays that Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT) can see. These largely consist of active galactic nuclei (AGN), the powerful black holes that emit huge amounts of energy in the form of gamma rays.

The constellations they created honor the several countries that contributed to the project, and some of the scientific concepts and principles that made the project possible, and also refer to iconic elements of science fiction (the mythologies of today.) The following is a list of all of these gamma-ray constellations, complete with their referents and new symbols for each. The symbols for these constellations include a symbeme seen only in this set: a six-pointed starburst, representing both a burst of gamma radiation, and the six home countries of the scientists who worked on this project.


[1] https://fermi.gsfc.nasa.gov/science/constellations/

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Black Widow Spider

This constellation is named the Latrodectus genus of spiders, most species of which are known for eating their mates. This name is a reference to a kind of binary system known as a black widow binary, which consists of a low-mass star closely orbiting a pulsar (a spinning magnetized neutron star that periodically emits gamma ray bursts.) The pulsar whittles away the smaller star's matter until it's all blown away.

The symbol of this constellation is a simple depiction of a spider as a larger circle atop a smaller circle, with four long lines (each representing two legs) coming from the middle, with a gamma starburst on the abdomen.

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Castle

This constellation is named after Neuschwanstein Castle near Füssen, Germany. It represents the contributions of German scientists to Fermi projects.

The symbol of this constellation is a castle glyph, an irregular squarish octagon, with a small gamma starburst between the two castle towers.

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Colosseum

This constellation is named after the famous Colosseum in Rome, Italy. It represents the scientific contributions of Italian scientists to Fermi projects.

The symbol of this constellation is a 3/4-view of a short cylinder, with the gamma starburst symbol on the top of the cylinder.

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Eiffel Tower

This constellation is named after the Eiffel Tower, an icon of Paris, France. It was designed by Gustave Eiffel and constructed for the 1889 World's Fair. It represents the scientific contributions of French scientists to Fermi projects.

The symbol of this constellation is a simple representation of the monument, depicted as two slightly curved lines meeting at a point at the top at a 60 degree angle, with two horizontal supports, and a gamma starburst at the top.

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Einstein

Not to be confused with 2001 Einstein; same referent.

This constellation is named after Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955), a German theoretical physicist whose theories of general relativity and the interrelated nature of matter and energy are constantly tested and proven by the physical phenomena which the LAT observes.

The symbol of this constellation is a large Latin capital letter E, referring to both his last name and the start of his famous equation, with a tiny gamma starburst on the lower right corner.

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Fermi Bubbles

This constellation is named after the astrophysical phenomenon discovered by the Fermi project. the plane of our galaxy contains a large amount of objects that are luminous in the gamma ranges of light, but these huge bubbles, which occupy space above the center of our galaxy on either side of the plane, are even brighter than the disk. It is thought that these structures are related to the black holes at the center of most galaxies.

The symbol for this constellation is a large gamma starburst, with two tiny disconnected circles in the upper and lower regions.

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Fermi Satellite

This constellation is named after NASA's Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope, which is able to study the sky in ways not possible on Earth. It, and the project as a whole, is named after Enrico Fermi, a nuclear and particle physicist.

The symbol of this constellation is a tiny gamma starburst enclosed in a square, with the horizontal line extended out, to resemble the body and solar panels of the Fermi telescope itself.

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Godzilla

This constellation is named after the famous monster from Japanese cinema. It was originally a symbol of the devastating power of nuclear energy, and its atomic breath and ravenous hunger might remind one of black holes, which are a significant portion of the objects that the Fermi telescope sees.

The symbol of this constellation is a large gamma starburst, with the Draco symbol coming down and around from the lower right leg.

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Golden Gate

This constellation is named after the Golden Gate Bridge, an iconic landmark in San Francisco, California. It represents the contributions of American scientists to Fermi projects, especially those from Stanford University and the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The symbol of this constellation is a depiction of the bridge, with a horizontal line, two vertical lines, and a catenary connecting the two, with a tiny starburst where the catenary touches the horizontal line.

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Hulk

This constellation is named after a superhero character from Marvel comics. The Incredible Hulk is the super-powered, monstrous, simpelr-minded alter-ego of scientist Bruce Banner. In a gamma radiation experiment gone wrong, Banner was turned into the Hulk, and turns into him again whenever he becomes angered or threatened.

The symbol of this constellation is a large gamma starburst, with circular arcs connecting the upper left, upper right, and lower segments to form the warning symbol for ionizing radiation.

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Mjolnir

Not to be confused with 85585 Mjolnir; same referent.

This constellation is named after the legendary hammer wielded by Thor, the Norse god of thunder. This name was chosen because the lightning storms it was said to have generated are a terrestrial source of gamma radiation.

The symbol of this constellation is a Thoran hammer, head down, with a gamma starburst on the handle.

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Mount Fuji

Not to be confused with 1584 Fuji; same referent.

This constellation is named after Mt. Fuji, the tallest mountain in Japan. It represents the contributions of Japanese scientists to Fermi projects.

The symbol of this constellation is a mountain glyph, with a gamma starburst on the top point.

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Obelisk

This constellation is named after the tall symbolic structures that have been build since ancient times, but also specifically after the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., the tallest obelisk in the world. This name was chosen because of the proximity to both the The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington and the NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, two institutions that are important to Fermi science projects.

The symbol for this constellation is a tall obelisk, represented as two vertical lines joined by a triangle at the top, with a gamma starburst at the highest point.

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Pharos

This constellation is named after Pharos of Alexandria, an ancient lighthouse and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This name was chosen because gamma-emitting pulsars are a kind of lighthouse, helping astronomers to measure time and distance across billions of lightyears.

The symbol of this constellation is an ancient lighthouse, as in the symbol for 35 Leukothea, but with the bowl and plume of smoke replaced by a gamma starburst.

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Radio Telescope

This constellation is named after the many radio observatories that have collaborated with the Fermi project, "including Australia Telescope National Facility, the Nançay Radio Astronomy Facility in France, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, the Owens Valley Radio Observatory in California and many more."

The symbol for this constellation is not Telescopium with a gamma starburst at the lens. If you've been reading a lot of the Symbology, maybe that's what you thought I was going to suggest, but no! This constellation is a radio telescope, not a gamma ray telescope. Instead, the symbol of this constellation is a radio dish, represented by a circular arc going from 5 o'clock to 11 o'clock with Echonian lines emanating from it, resting atop a gamma starburst base.

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Saturn V Rocket

This constellation is named after the Saturn V rocket, which enabled NASA to send astronauts to the Moon as part of the Apollo missions. The name honors both NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama, for their contributions to the success of the Fermi mission.

The symbol of this constellation is a small turned gamma starburst, with an up-arrow with a small ring coming from it. The ringed arrow represents human spaceflight, and resembles the tall vertical shape of the rocket.

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Schrödinger's Cat

This constellation is named after 13092 Erwin Schrödinger's (1887 - 1961) famous and popularly-misunderstood thought experiment about the real-world interpretation of the implications of quantum mechanics. The name honors the quantum physics that underlies gamma ray astronomy.

The symbol of this constellation is as the symbol for Leo, but with the circle replaced by a square with a gamma starburst inside it, representing the radiation in the box that may or may not have killed an imaginary cat.

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Starship Enterprise

This constellation is named after the iconic spaceship from the America science fiction television show Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry. In the show, the Enterprise's warp core engine is powered in part by matter-antimatter reactions, which create gamma radiation.

The symbol of this constellation is a depiction of the starship, as in the symbol for 4659 Roddenberry, with a gamma starburst occupying the circular segment.

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TARDIS

Not to be confused with 3325 TARDIS; same referent.

This constellation is named after the vehicle of the titular Doctor from the British science fiction television show Doctor Who. It is capable of traveling through time and space, and its outside appearance of a 1960's police telephone box conceals it much larger interior. This name was chosen to represent the time and space explorations that gamma-ray astronomy is capable of in its own way.

The symbol for this constellation is as the symbol for 3325 TARDIS, but with the tiny half-circle at the top of the box replaced by a gamma starburst.

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The Little Prince

Not to be confused with 45 Eugenia I Petit-Prince; partly the same referent.

This constellation is named after the titular character from the beloved French children's novel The Little Prince. The form of the constellation depicts the Prince standing on his home world, the tiny asteroid named B-612.

The symbol for this constellation resembles the symbol of 46610 Bésixdouze, but with the rose (represented by a tiny circle on a stem) replaced with the Prince (represented by a tiny gamma starburst on a stem).

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Vasa

This constellation is named after the Vasa, a Swedish warship built in the 1620's. It sunk beneath the sea on its maiden voyage, and was recovered in 1961 nearly intact. It represents the contributions of Swedish scientists to Fermi projects.

The symbol for this constellation is a boat, represented by a half-circle, with an Aquarian wave crossing it, and a gamma starburst on the deck.

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