The constellation you see in the upper right here isn't real. That is, it's not made of stars. But though it's only fiber optics, an LED, and a structure of nylon line, it's meant to reconnect people with the very real -- and ancient -- bond humans have traditionally had with the glories and mysteries of the night sky.
The "Urban Stargazing" project was created by London-based product designer Oscar Lhermitte in response to his frustration over the light pollution in that great metropolis. Lhermitte wanted to give the city back its stars. In the process, he hoped to generate awareness and debate about light pollution and its effects.
Here you can plainly see the structure of one of Lhermitte's constellations. After trying various approaches -- lighted balloons tied to rooftops, kites, parachutes, lasers -- he settled on triangulated structures "made of clear 0.6mm nylon line, 0.2mm polyethylene braid, 0.75mm fiber optic, and a solar powered LED," according to Lhermitte's Web site. "During the day, the battery is recharged by the solar panel, and the circuit switches on the LED when it is dark enough to observe stars."
Lhermitte and his team installed 12 constellations in London last summer, some of them re-creations of actual starry patterns, others invented. None of them remain aloft, but Lhermitte told Crave in an e-mail that he'll be doing a "one-off" reinstallation of one of the pieces tonight. He's also in negotiations with several municipalities about installing new setups that would allow the constellations to be rigged between buildings.
During the initial installation, Lhermitte made a map available, listing the longitudes and latitudes of each constellation (the image above is a detail). People could enter the coordinates into a Web mapping application and go on a stargazing walk.
You can see some of Lhermitte's made-up constellations in this image -- "The V2," for example. He says the pieces referenced old and contemporary myths about London.