Constellation Project

The Luing Constellation was created in early 2009 by the residents of the Isle of Luing with support from the Isle of Luing Community Trust. The first step was to choose dates which are significant in the history of Luing. These were suggested at an astronomy night by an enthusiastic audience of residents. The dates were then matched as closely as possible with prominent stars close to the Pole Star so that they are visible throughout the year in the Northern Hemisphere. They are paired up by finding a star that is roughly as many light years away as the event is back in time. For example, electricity first came to the island 53 years ago in 1956 and was matched up with the star Caph within the constellation Cassiopeia which is 54 light years away. Of the 40 dates suggested, matches were found for 26 of them. Where a cluster of dates occured close together these were grouped with one star, so the end result was 14 stars from which a constellation could be created.

The next step was for residents to single out a few of these stars which they felt represented the most important dates for Luing, and then design a constellation using these stars. The 30 designs that came back were a wonderful mix of ideas, but there was a strong maritime theme with 9 boats, 3 anchors, a mermaid, a lighthouse. There were also many animals including a bull, otters, birds, fish, lobsters and shells. The remaining included an outline of Luing, the Grey Dog and a flower.

As well as taking into account the designs, note was also taken of the dates which were most often used and these were included in the final design. The most popular date was A (representing the last quarry closing, the Luing cattle breed being officially recognised, the first Post Bus for the island and Cullipool Shop beng built) but the allocated star (Capella) was further away from the rest of the popular stars. It was found that there was a closer star (Errai) which was a similar distance away in light years so this was used instead at the final design stage so that the date could be incorporated more easily into the constellation.

As so many boats, mainly sailing boats or birlinns were sent in, it seemed appropriate for the final design to be a boat. A birlinn was chosen for its historical significance and as it is shown in the graffitti on the old church. One of the designs sent in included Polaris (the Pole Star) which was not one of the original stars chosen. However, it seemed a good idea to include it as it would make the constellation easier to find in the night sky so it was kept for the final design. It also felt appropriate as it has been so important in navigation for boats throughout history.

So the next time we have one of our wonderfully dark nights and the stars are out, look for the constellation and remember that the light we are seeing from each of those stars was created when its allocated event was happening down here on earth, on the Isle of Luing.

A printable version of this information is available here.

Many thanks go to Dark Sky Scotland for their help and encouragement, to Rosy Thomson for running the project and to Birgit Whitmore for the final design.