These are my speculations about what aliens from other solar systems might see when they look toward our Sun, assuming that they, like us, mythologise their night sky and divide it into constellations.
My images of alien night skies are generated by planetarium software (namely Starstrider), based on scientific measurements of how bright each star is and where in space it is located. So in that respect, I aim for accuracy. My assumptions about the aliens, on the other hand, are completely unrealistic, which is OK because I’m seeking to entertain, not to hypothesise. I assume that shapes which resemble Earth lifeforms also resemble alien ones, and that the aliens who observe these shapes have eyes similar to our own.
This post is permanently open to requests. Feel free to nominate a star that’s not too far away from our Sun (25 lightyears is a rough limit), and I’ll see if I can invent a similar constellation from its perspective. Also, feel free to draw constellations of your own in a similar spirit, upload some illustrations, and link to them in the comments.
(Image links are in bold text. I haven’t used thumbnail images because they aren’t really appropriate for starfields: specks of light on a black background don’t look like much when you shrink them.)
- From Alpha Centauri, our Sun is the very tip of an animalesque constellation’s snout. Compared to Delta Persei, which is quite a different orifice of the same beast, we may consider ourselves fortunate.
- From Delta Pavonis, our Sun is part of a group of stars that look rather neatly stacked in a pyramid shape. Delta Pavonis has been identified by both science fiction authors and scientists as a good example of a nearby sun-like star. Of all visible stars within twenty lightyears of the solar system, it also happens to be the nearest to the South Celestial Pole.
- [Added 6 April 2008]
From Epsilon Eridani, our Sun is part of a simple kite-shaped constellation (the stars are labelled with their terrestrial names here). Of all extrasolar systems that are known to have planets, Epsilon Eridani is the nearest to us, and it crops up occasionally in science fiction.
- [Added 15 November 2008]
Everyone is talking about the planet that has been directly photographed around Fomalhaut, but how do we look from there? Well, here is a section of its night sky, and here is the same section with some annotations, including terrestrial names of stars and a couple of possible constellations. I didn’t manage to come up with a constellation that actually includes the Sun, but nearby I found two: one being a sort of oval-shape, and the other being some sort of long-necked, long-tailed quadraped. If you like, they can be a meteor and a dinosaur, or something.
- [Added 25 May 2010]
Inspired by this article, I decided to investigate the view from Upsilon Andromedae. It turns out that the Sun appears as a faint star underneath a constellation of a walking pterosaur.
- [Added 5 October 2010]
Potentially habitable planets are found from time to time around the star Gliese 581, most recently Gliese 581g. Here is a portion of its sky showing the position of the Sun relative to other objects. As for constellations, the first thing I thought of was a pair of worms approaching the Pleiades, but later I thought it could be a giant bird.
- [Added 20 September 2011]
Another potentially habitable planet has been identified orbiting the star HD85512. Here is a screenshot showing the position of the sun in its night sky. My astrological interpretation is that, from the perspective of HD85512bians, the Sun is being stared at by a cosmic duck.
- [Added 14 October 2011]
I was inspired by Mark Rosenfelder’s page of nearby stars to look for a Sol-bearing constellation from at least one world in his list that I haven’t already covered. I chose Epsilon Indi, from which I think aliens see the Sun as the shoulder of a giant rocking horse. (If you wish, you can extend the neck to incorporate the line of brightish stars just above the head as I’ve drawn it; it’s alien, after all.)