Appearance of stars from a relativistic spaceship

How the stars appear from a spaceship flying toward Polaris.

The speed, v, is given as a fraction of the speed of light, c. So v = 0.4 c, means four-tenths the speed of light.

The diameter of a star disk is proportional to its brightness as perceived by a human eye.

The colors of the stars indicate the color the stars would appear to the human eye,
note, the colors shown here are more intense than they would appear to the eye, look at betelgeuse in the sky and see what is meant by a "red" star>

Click on these giant thumbnails to see the enlarged images.

v = 0 toward Polaris

stars v=0 forward


v=0 rear view

v = 0, rear

Left: Forward view at rest, v = 0

Polaris at the center of the screen.

The Big Dipper at the left, notice it's stars are white,yellow and blue.

Cassiopeia to the right,

Leo below center on the left edge. Regulus is the blue star at 8 O'clock.

Betegeuse is the red star at the bottom, 6 O'clock, Orion is bisected by the edge of the view screen.

Right: Rear View

The Milky Way crosses the screen.

The three stars of Orion's belt are at the bottom.

v = 0.4c Forward

stars v=0.4 c forward

v = 0.4c Rear

stars v=0.4 c rear

v = 0.4 c

Forward view

The stars are begining to move toward Polaris.

Orion is entirely visible at the bottom.

The stars near the center are becoming brighter.

The rear View is beginning to thin out.

v=0.7c Forward

stars v = 0.7 c forward

v=0.7c Rear

stars v = 0.7 c rear

v = 0.7 c

Forward view.

Six stars in the Big Dipper are blue.

Betegeuse is yellow.


Rear View

Is getting empty.

v = 0.92c Forward

stars v = 0.92 c forward

(Only 3 dim stars remain in the rear view. Not shown.)


v = 0.92 c Forward

All the stars of the Big Dipper are Blue.

Orion is white.

Stars toward the center are becoming blue and bright.

(Only 3 dim stars remain in the rear view. Which is not shown.)


These images were inspired by Frederick Pohl's science fiction story, "The Gold at the Starbows End."
When I calculated the appearance of the starbow, it did not appear!
Instead I produced the star disks above.

My work resulted in a publication:
In search of the "Starbow": The appearance of the starfield from a relativistic spaceship
John M. McKinley and Paul Doherty
American Journal of Physics 47(4),April 1979 pp 309-316

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© 1999

4 Apr 99