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Examples of SF References in Professional Astronomy

Just to give an incomplete list of examples of science fiction and fantasy references in professional astronomy:

Star Trek

  • The Cardassian Expansion - "a model in which the universe is flat, matter-dominated and accelerating" which states explicitly that "The name Cardassian refers to a humanoid race in Star Trek whose goal is to take over the universe, i.e. accelerated expansion. This race looks foreign to us and yet is made entirely of matter." (Freese & Lewis, 2002)
  • BoRG – the Brightest of Reionization epoch Galaxies survey, named for the aliens in Star Trek.
  • Image viewing software ds9 (Full name SAOImage DS9, the successor to SAOImage and SAOImage TNG)
  • Tiberius - an exoplanet transmission spectroscopy code developed and maintained by astronomer James Kirk.
  • SPOCK, the Stability of Planetary Orbital Configurations Klassifier (Tamayo et al, 2020).

Star Wars

  • Tatooines - a Star Wars reference used to describe circumbinary planets, as in the TATOOINE (The Attempt To Observe Outer-planets In Non-single-stellar Environments) radial velocity survey programme (Konaki et al 2010). See also Walking on Exoplanets: Is Star Wars Right?
  • ACBAR – the Arcminute Cosmology Bolometer Array Receiver. In reference to the Star Wars character. It’s a trap! (A photon trap)
  • Darth Fader - a code for wavelet analysis of low signal to noise spectra of galaxies.
  • C3PO survey of stars
  • EWOCS (Extended Westerlund 1 and 2 Open Clusters Survey) work on young massive stellar clusters.Logo of the EWOCS survey.
  • Rebels (Reionization Era Bright Emission Line Survey) high redshift galaxy survey with ALMA and JWST.Rebels survey logo
  • The catchphrase "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" is frequently used e.g. as a paper title when discussing galaxies in the distant Universe or in press releases.

Doctor Who

  • The TARDIS supernova modelling code - rapid spectral modelling, open source software in which the origin of the name in Doctor Who is never explicitly stated (Kerzendorf & Sim 2014). Also DALEK, its machine learning emulator (Kerzendorf et al 2020).
  • The TARDIS tool for modelling and constraining the intergalactic medium at z~2.5 (Tomographic Absorption Reconstruction and Density Inference Scheme (Horowitz et al 2019)
  • Gallifrey Macula and Tardis Chasma (both referencing Doctor Who) are amongst a range of SF-themed names used for craters and features on Pluto's moon Charon. Others include references to Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly and Alien.


  • MINBAR - the Multi-INstrument Burst ARchive, a repository for data on stellar explosions, named after a race from Babylon 5 (Galloway et al 2020, Galloway priv. comm.)
  • Earendel (a distant, highly lensed star) - technically a fantasy (rather than SF) reference to Tolkein's Lord of the Rings (e.g. LotR is also referenced by FRODOspec, SMAUG, GANDALF, BALROG, another BALROG, the work of Kristine Larsen and others.
  • HOGWARTs web tool for studying galaxies in a gravitational wave transient localisation area.
  • The NASA design study for a proposed space telescope (The Habitable Exoplanet Observatory, HabEx) notes that of their nine primary targets, five systems have a pop-culture, science fiction resonance - not because this influences their selection, but because this is relevant to the degree of popular support for and public engagement with an expensive scientific survey telescope.
  • BATMAN, SPIDERMAN and TERMINATOR Exoplanet lightcurve fitting codes.
  • Banner of Stargate collaborationThe STARGATE collaboration for following up gamma ray bursts at the ESO Very Large Telescope.
  • The other STARGATE collaboration - Space Telescopes Advanced Research Group on the Atmospheres of Transiting Exoplanets. Both Stargates use imagery from the film and television series.
  • The Spice Dune project (Spectro Photometric Inquiry of Close-in Exoplanets around the Desert to Understand their Nature and Evolution) is an exoplanet research study led by Vincent Bourrier at the University of Geneva which focusses on Neptune-like planets. One of its observing programmes on the VLT is ATRIEDES (Ancestry, Traits and Relations of Exoplanets Inhabiting the Desert Edges and Savannah). These are references to Frank Herbert's Dune novels and the associated films and other media.
  • NASA's XCOM communications technology demonstration satellite used a logo (left) closely based on that of the classic X-COM alien invasion video game (right). XCOM mission logo XCOM game logo

Further suggestions for inclusion are always welcome. Last update: November 2023