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Vault of Heaven Star Map

Vault of Heaven Star Map

In 2004, the theme for Burning Man was "The Vault of Heaven." This was meant to represent astronomy, science fiction, the alien, the night and some of the spirituality of the prior year's theme. In the past I have mostly not done theme art, but just prior to the event Kathryn and I realized that it would explore the theme very well to redraw the constellations of the night sky to represent the icons of Burning Man. With a bit of luck, some folks might enjoy knowing the new star patterns as they stare up into the playa night.

We built this map and placed it in a lightbox at the front of our camp on Mercury. Traffic on Mercury was much less than expected, so it's here on the web for those who didn't see it. I put two of my other installations, the Phone Booth and Panorama Wall on the Esplanade, but I hoped to bring some traffic to our frontage on Mercury.

Constellations come from many sources, including the legends of primitive peoples. 48 of the ones we use today were largely drawn by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy, with others added over the years from other sources. (Some southern ones were added as late as modern times.) Star maps centuries later would be filled with fanciful drawings.

In the sky some constellations are obvious to all immediately. Most can find the Big Dipper (really the Great Bear, now the Water Truck), Cassiopeia (The Evil President), Scorpius (Linus Exodus), Sagittarius (Tentus Majorus,) Orion (not visible at sunset) and a few others. Others are hard to pick out even if you know them well.

Ideally, given time, I would have started with a blank slate of stars and sat under them until I could find the patterns, as ancient astronomers did. However, with short notice, I redrew the lines of a few constellations but mostly sought re-imaginings of some of the existing figures. In some cases it was easy -- Sagittarius really does look like a cabin tent, and the Northern Cross (really the Swan) easily represents the 2003 theme of belief and spirituality.

Of course, I also wanted to be amusing. The Costco Carport isn't a deliberate icon of Burning Man, but you see it everywhere. The Stetson, taken from an actual photo of Larry's head, used an extension of Libra. Some images were derived from photos I had taken, Kathryn drew some nice images of figures like the Fed, the Hippie and Spectatius, who sports a Nike T-shirt and a camcorder.

When I told Durgy of the Black Rock Gazette of the map, he encouraged the development of more mythology behind the constellations. I renamed the Milky Way into the Dusty Way and declared it to be (correctly from a scientific basis) the beginning and origin of all. The great Dust Devil drew the legends of the playa into the sky for all to see.

I drew the stars based on their position an hour and a half after sunset, when it finally is truly dark. Perhaps for Burning Man even later stars would have made more sense, as I could have reworked well known patterns such as Orion, Taurus and perhaps Gemini.

Nonetheless people enjoyed the map, even small details like the extremely simple "Rebar" and the blatant renaming of Pisces the fish to Pisces-Elwirea. I hope you enjoy it here and perhaps learn some of the new patterns for your next trip to the playa.

Thanks to kstars for the base star map.

See also my Burning Man 2004 photos.