David Bowie: The Star Man & The Snowman
For the season that’s in it, I’m exploring Christmas Nostalgia, David Bowie and space, all jumbled together.
While David Bowie was here on planet earth, he co-existed in a spacey, sci-fi wonderland that stretched beyond Ziggy Stardust through his entire career. Bowie's obsession with space informed his identity, and space-travel was his lifelong muse, inspiring songs like Star Man, Life on Mars, Space Oddity, Ashes to Ashes, Hallo Spaceboy, Blackstar, and loads more.
As if in a parallel universe, there also exists a festive-jumper-wearing, mince-pie eating "Christmas Bowie" who narrated The Snowman, and who did a Christmas duet with Bing Crosby.
The 1982 animated special The Snowman still ranks 3rd in Channel 4's poll of 100 Greatest Christmas Moments. "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy", the song with Bing Crosby (also released in 1982, curiously) became a Christmas classic, and was one of the biggest-selling and fastest-selling singles of Bowie's career.
A week after his death in January 2016, the MIRA Observatory in Brussels registered in the name of David Bowie a group of 7 stars that form the shape of the iconic lightning bolt from the cover of Bowie's "Aladdin Sane". Although a lot of people have referred to it as a constellation, the collection of stars named in Bowie’s honour is actually known as an asterism.
There's no means to replace or name new constellations. The entire sky has already been divided into 88 constellations that are recognised by the International Astronomical Union, the official naming body of scientists. An asterism is simply a set of stars that form a pattern familiar to the human eye. Bowie's asterism is made up of stars from the constellations of Libra, Virgo, Centaurus, and Triangulum Australe, so isn’t a constellation in its own right.
But asterisms are still cool. Other famous examples of asterisms include the Big Dipper, the Great Bear, and the Summer Triangle. There are all kinds of connect-the-dots asterisms scattered across the night sky that have been identified by star gazers - a giant sickle, a teapot, a fish hook, a coat hanger, and lots more. There's nothing to stop you from making up and naming your own asterism too, in honour of whomever or whatever you choose. It might not be officially recognised by the by the International Astronomical Union, but making up new names for star formations is a fun thing to do, so you should do it.
The stars Bowie's asterism is composed of by the way are these seven fellows: Sigma Librae, Spica, Alpha Virginis, Zeta Centauri, SAA 204 132, and the Beta Sigma Octantis Trianguli Australis. Not only does Bowie's music live on here on Earth, but he also has a special place in the celestial heavens.