A graphic designer has used satellite data to create a glimpse at the way popular constellations change over time.
Just about any kid today could point out constellations such as the Big Dipper or Orion on a starry night sky. After 50,000 years, not so much. Thanks to Martin Vargic’s chart, the graphic designer from Slovakia shows us how famous constellations have changed through history and will continue to change into the distant future.
He used data from the Hipparcos satellite which charted positions of celestial objects from 1989 – 1993. Vargic was then able to estimate how constellations should change between 50,000 BC to 100,000 AD.
“The changes in these star patterns occur because the stars that comprise constellations are not physically related,” explained E.C. Krupp, the director at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. “They are all independent objects, at different distances from us and from each other and moving independently from each other.”
The degree that the future stars will change in the constellations will depend on how far they are from Earth. Stars drift through the heavens at dozens of kilometers per second, which is “extremely fast compared to a pitched baseball, but only about 1/10,000 the speed of light,” said Daniel Schroeder, a physicist from Weber State University. While a naked eye can’t perceive the stars moving around, astronomers are able to detect and keep track of their motion over time; some stars wobble from side to side while others move towards or away from Earth. “That motion is easier to detect for the closer stars, and harder for the more distant ones,” said Schroeder.
For example, the Big Dipper is a constellation of stars about 100 light-years away from us, while the stars in Orion’s Belt are about 1,000 light-years away. This will cause the Big Dipper, and the upper stars of Orion to change very quickly, while stars like those in the belt won’t change much at all.
Changing star patterns have been known by scientists since 1718 when Edmond Halley first wrote on proper motion, and portrayals have been published over the past 300 years. However, it wasn’t until The Hipparcos that we have had such an accurate measurement of the apparent motion of stars. The preciseness was what allowed for Vargic to create these great images of our future stars.