Starman: Astronomers name group of stars after David Bowie

Next time you look out your window, you might see a Starman waiting in the sky.

That's because Belgian astronomers have picked out a group of seven stars, which form a lightning bolt, to honour David Bowie, who died after an 18-month battle with cancer last week.

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It is a fitting send-off for the rock star, who frequently incorporated the cosmos into his art.

Bowie's 1969 single "Space Oddity" launched him into superstardom. A period of experimentation also led him to create the flamboyant alter ego Ziggy Stardust, an alien rock star.

Bowie's 1972 album "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars," included hits "Starman" and "Life on Mars."

The character also famously appeared on the cover of his 1973 album "Aladdin Sane," with an iconic red-and-blue lightning bolt painted on his face.

Belgian radio station Studio Brussel and the MIRA public observatory said they registered the cluster of stars last week, and will take a "symbolic place alongside the 88 existing constellations."

Philippe Mollet, a representative from MIRA, said that it was not easy to find a "unique place in the galaxy" for Bowie.

"Referring to his various albums, we chose seven stars – Sigma Librae, Spica, Alpha Virginis, Zeta Centauri, SAA 204 132 and the Beta Sigma Octantis Trianguli Australis – in the vincinity of Mars at the exact time of his death," said Mollet.

"The constellation looks like an exact copy of the iconic Bowie lightning."

Jesse Rogerson, a PhD candidate in astrophysics at York University in Toronto, told CTV News Channel Monday that the group of stars can't be officially classified as a constellation – that list was laid out by the International Astronomical Union in 1922 – but they can be called an asterism, or a "colloquially accepted" pattern of stars like the Big Dipper.

Rogerson said the stars are all visible to the naked eye, and many are part of other constellations such as Virgo and Libra.

He added that stargazers in southern Ontario at this time of year can catch a glimpse of the new asterism in the early morning hours.

"It is actually in the vicinity of Mars," said Rogerson.

"Currently, the planet Mars is going right through that area, which is fitting for Ziggy Stardust, so it is a nice little place … it is a huge area of the sky that we can see at some points of the year."

Rogerson compared the Bowie tribute to the naming of constellations after culturally significant figures across human history, such as characters out of Greek mythology like Orion, Andromeda, Aries and Hercules.

"This is exactly what humans have been doing as long as we've been looking at the night sky," he said.

"It is wonderful to see that history, and that tradition is still there."


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