RJN wrote:Why is this image so popular? I would appreciate insight into this. This image did very well on Facebook Sky. So well, in fact, that I APODed it with the hope that it would also be a popular APOD. (No, potential popularity is not the only selection criterion for APOD.) Sure enough, it is also "Liking" quite well on Facebook APOD, and seems destined to be one of the few APODs to garner over 2,000 Facebook Likes in a single day.
But why? I would not have guessed that this image would be this popular. The image does not have an interesting foreground, for example, nor an interesting tapestry of colors or textures. The image is not related to a topical news event, nor mimics an obvious anthropological icon. It is clearly enhanced to bring it out of the range of what people would actually see. Yet it is undeniably very popular. One might guess that after nearly 20 years I would be somewhat adept at guessing which image submissions would anchor popular APODs, but once again I am surprised. Your thoughts would be appreciated!
Here are my guesses:
. If there is one "constellation" that people in general recognize, I would guess it is Orion's Belt. If there is another "constellation" that is recognized by almost anyone in the northern hemisphere that has bothered to learn any patterns in the night sky at all, I'd say it's the Big Dipper.
2) It stands alone
. Unlike Orion's Belt, the Big Dipper doesn't have a lot of competition when it comes to bright stars in its general Earth sky vicinity. This relative emptiness in the sky around the Big Dipper makes it stand out more.
3) Elegant shape
. The shape of the Big Dipper is elegant and satisfying. Rather few constellations or asterisms are.
4) Similar brightness and spacing
. The Big Dipper is interesting in that its stars are quite regularly spaced, widely but not too
widely spaced, and they are of relatively similar brightness. (Megrez, admittedly, is an underachiever.)
5) Signpost in the sky
. Many of those who recognize the Big Dipper also know that two stars in this asterism point in the direction of Polaris, the North Star. Since Polaris is a very popular star in itself, the Big Dipper's role in helping us find this northern gem in the sky also helps making the Dipper popular.
. For many (all?) of us in the northern hemisphere, the Big Dipper never sets, and so it is visible in a dark sky all year round. That makes it a dependable and trustworthy companion.
. The fact that the Big Dipper is always visible every clear night in the northern hemisphere, plus the fact that it points the way to the North Star, means that you can use it to navigate. If you are out in the wilderness and lose your way, you can use the Big Dipper to find your way back again (at least you can make sure that you don't walk in circles).
8) "Idealized reality
". Vegastar Carpentier's enhanced portrait of the Big Dipper has accentuated several of the characteristics that make this asterism so popular. The Dipper shape really
stands out, and no one will have any trouble finding it! Also, the stars except Alkaid look more alike in this picture than they do in reality - all of them are the same color in this picture, whereas in reality Dubhe looks yellowish. The fact that they are so bright and blue-white here makes them look like "idealized" stars.
9) Cosmic gem
. The special treatment that VegaStar Carpentier has given to Alkaid adds an almost magical quality to the picture. Alkaid resembles a marvelously brilliant precious stone that hangs from a stellar pendant. So beautiful! Alkaid also resembles a brilliant supernova, which adds real drama to the picture. Finally, this enhancement of Alkaid might just make many people think of Polaris, because many of us know that the Big Dipper points at Polaris.
A memory older than ourselves
. All in all, I'd say that this portrait of the Big Dipper is so beautiful and perfect that it speaks directly to our emotions without stumbling on too many of our intellectual objections. It seems to speak to a memory or a recognition that is older than ourselves. This may be particularly true for those who like the stars, but don't know too much about them.
And hey, the picture speaks directly to me, even though I pride myself on being somewhat knowledgeable about Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, Zeta and Eta Ursa Majoris!