The Starring Role Today Belongs to the Stars!

What’s in an astronomical name? Part Two

This is a follow up article unraveling the mysteries and references embedded inside ‘From Antares to Zimmerwald: A Sky Full of References!’. Do check that up before you read this one. And of course, towards the end, I’ll reveal the answer to the puzzle I left behind in my previous article.

“A low-angle shot of a purple-hued night sky over silhouettes of coniferous trees” by Ryan Hutton on Unsplash

Let’s start with the inspiration behind the title of that article, a short film made under just 50 hours by our friends of the Film Society, NIT Trichy, just like how that article was written in a relatively short time. The second part of the title is a derivative of it! It just somehow struck a chord and the title was born.

Okay, what about the title of this article? A hidden Easter egg indeed, but I will let you know about that at the end.

You would have come across beautiful images that essentially depict different planetary nebulae. Interestingly, the Google image search of the same would give great results such as the ‘Eye of the God’ Nebula, which is one of the most iconic astronomical structures known to man.

‘Eye of the God’ Nebula

Another reference was to a bunch of Harry Potter characters named after stars.

For the next reference, astronomers would have known them as the moons of the planets of our solar system but the rest would have identified them as our beloved characters Phoebe Buffay from Friends, Juliet and Miranda from Shakespeare’s works, and Elara which I kind of included because it sounded like a cool name (Literally!).

Now let’s get to the Astro-Phonic song, which was inspired directly from the phonic song of the English alphabet. There are a few hidden references to name. Luna for example also refers to the main character of an online novel series I have been writing.

Titania, the largest moon of Uranus is in fact also a reference to Erza Scarlet, a character from the Japanese manga titled ‘Fairy Tail’ where she is nicknamed Titania, the queen of the fairies. If you are a ‘Friends’ TV series fan, does the name Ursula remind you of someone? Yep! Ursula here is a reference to Phoebe’s sister. Towards the end, we have Ymir, another anime reference, this time to a character by the same name from the ‘Attack on Titan’ series.

And then there is ‘Kleopatra, The ham bone shaped asteroid with two moons!’. Have you ever wondered what are the names of those two moons? They are called Alexhelios and Cleoselene. Quite intriguing, don’t you think? Guess what? They are inspired from the actual names of the two children of Cleopatra!

Without any further speculation, let us break down the final puzzle. What’s in an astronomical name, you ask? An answer in an asterisk. It is of course a reference to the famous ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’.

So what about the *? If you happen to be a computer geek, you would have noticed the significance of it right away. An asterisk is the ASCII character number 42, which is in fact is termed as ‘the answer to the ultimate question of the life, the universe, and everything’ in the above novel series.

An asterisk also means ‘Nothing or Everything’. Is that the answer to what’s in an astronomical name? Close enough but that was not what I was referring to exactly.

Where does the number 42, lead us to? At the beginning of the article, you would have seen a gorgeous astronomical picture, which you now know it as a collection of planetary nebulae. Before we ponder further, the title of this article is a reference to two different things. The star here refers to the ‘Little Star’ or the ancient Greek translation of the word ‘Asterisk’. The ‘little star’ can be correlated with what 42 symbolizes. The phrase, ‘The starring role today’ is inspired from a prominent dialogue from the anime titled, ‘Your Lie in April, where one of the characters chants the exact same line to inspire the protagonist. This is another new clue for you to consider.

By the way, do you remember me mentioning about a rough estimate that the total number of the stars in our universe is over 1 billion trillion? That is 1 followed by 21 zeroes. Now, 21 is an interesting number, half of 42 and it is also directly related to the number of ‘stars’ as mentioned. That’s the next hint. Have you figured out the answer yet or still clueless?

Let me now connect all the pieces together ultimately leading to the answer you seek.

On April 1, 1995, astronomers took a photograph. Little did they know that it would go on to be one of the greatest clicks ever. It was a picture of a structure from 7000 years ago. It had two distinct columns, each about four light years tall. It was a massive breathtaking structure. Scientist could observe the birth of new stars in it. Located in the Eagle Nebula, what did that image depict?

A higher-resolution HST image of the Pillars of Creation, taken in 2014 as a tribute to the original photograph

What’s in an astronomical name, you ask? The ultimate answer I would give to that is the ‘Pillars of Creation’, of life, the universe, and everything around us. Today, we describe the universe with astronomical names. We name newly-born life after astronomical entities and we use these very same names, to create something new, something much larger than what already exists, the fiction and the stories, many of which define our potential to imagine the unthinkable.

In the previous article, you would have seen a mid-credit scene, titled, “The End”. That in fact refers to the Marvel Cinematic Universe where each film ends with a mid credit or an end credit scene which hints towards the beginning of a new film. It all boils down to the ‘Pillars of Creation’ yet again, how it’s end gave rise to a new beginning. (Yep! according to estimates, the pillars of creation must have been destroyed a long time ago!)

One chapter ends and another one begins in this perpetual cycle of life and death, until one day, when a new question pops up. Till then, sayonara!

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