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Star Wars in Real World Astronomy

In describing and naming astronomical discoveries, scientists reveal the force of fiction. Two NASA missions reflect how Star Wars has influenced the public in general and astronomers in particular.

Start with Pluto. Surface features on its biggest moon Charon are unofficially named after the four biggest characters in the Star Wars franchise--Skywalker, Leia, Solo, Vader. The Our Pluto campaign solicited names from the public, based on several themes. Among the Charon Theme #1: Fictional Explorers and Travelers names are characters from Star Trek, Star Wars, Gilgamesh, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and more.

The Pluto mission team submits the proposed names to the International Astronomical Union (IAU), who would officially recognize (or not) some of the public's favorites.

Our Pluto writes, "The slate of characters from the Star Wars film series received the second largest number of votes in this category, favored by 34% of all voters and demonstrating worldwide popularity." The quartet of Skywalker, Leia, Solo, Vader are referenced in the Proposed Name column as C1.5, C1.6, C1.7, and C1.8, respectively.

Meanwhile, in its 25th year of discovery, the Hubble Space Telescope has been peering where new stars are forming from the ashes of older stars. Coinciding with the 2015 opening night of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Hubble Space Institute released Hubble Sees the Force Awakening in a Newborn Star.

Accompanying the stunning image of a newborn star that is ejecting saber-like jets of gas, the Hubble Heritage Release summarizes:

Just about anything is possible in our remarkable universe, and it often competes with the imaginings of science fiction writers and filmmakers. Hubble's latest contribution is a striking photo of what looks like a double-bladed lightsaber straight out of the Star Wars films. In the center of the image, partially obscured by a dark, Jedi-like cloak of dust, a newborn star shoots twin jets out into space as a sort of birth announcement to the universe. Gas from a surrounding disk rains down onto the dust-obscured protostar and engorges it. The material is superheated and shoots outward from the star in opposite directions along an uncluttered escape route — the star's rotation axis. Much more energetic than a science fiction lightsaber, these narrow energetic beams are blasting across space at over 100,000 miles per hour. This celestial lightsaber does not lie in a galaxy far, far away but rather inside our home galaxy, the Milky Way.

In the constellation of Orion the Hunter, prominent in the winter sky, is Herbig-Haro Object 24. See this video produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute for NASA:

Thanks to Linda Marks and Paul Surowiec of Michiana Astronomical Society Inc. for tonight pointing out the force of fictional characters.

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