What Will the Constellations Look Like in 50,000 Years?
Stargazers of the future will look into a different night sky. That's because the stars are constantly moving relative to each other.
These shifts are nearly imperceptible during a person’s lifetime, but they add up over the centuries and millennia. This means that in, say, 50,000 years, many common constellations will have a very different shape.
Take a look at how five famous constellations will look 50,000 years from now. Astronomer Robert Hurt of NASA's Spitzer Science Center helps us explain the changes in these images generated by the space simulation software Starry Night.
In general, stars that are closer to us in the galaxy will appear to move farther across the sky. The stars in Ursa Major are relatively close, compared to some other constellations, so they will appear to move quite a bit.
The Great Bear, which includes the Big Dipper, will distort over time. The Big Dipper will be flatter, with a more bent handle, and the other stars in Ursa Major will change their relative positions, too.
The Little Bear, or the Little Dipper, will mostly retain its shape. But the star that makes up the bear's hind leg will move enough that the smaller dipper will no longer be a 'dipper' in 50,000 years.
The main body of Orion will hardly shift at all, because it’s mainly made of supergiant stars, like Bellatrix and Rigel, that are hundreds of light years away and thus don't appear to move in the sky. A couple of the smaller, closer stars in Orion's club and shield will change position though.
One of the stars in Taurus (near the bull’s left eye) appears to be gradually running away from the rest of the group. This is because it's not actually part of the group.
The stars in the Y-shaped intersection of Taurus are mostly part of the Hyades star cluster, but one of them is actually a far-away star that happens to align with the Hyades. Over the years, that star will move away from the group.
The serpentine curve of Draco will turn into a jagged line over the years. The stars that make up Draco are smaller and closer to Earth than those in many other well-known constellations. This means they’ll move a lot relative to each other.