You don’t often associate flags with astronomy. Astronomy is the study of stars and constellations in the sky, and flags are symbolic pieces of cloth that help identify various countries, states, cities and regions. However, there are more astronomically themed flags than you would be led to believe. Look at the United States flag as an example. In 1777, the Second Continental Congress published a book that wrote about a new constellation. The “new constellation” they were referring to was actually the American flag. A passage from the book describes the stars as a symbol of the heavens and the stripes representing the rays of light coming from the sun. While this may not be the intended meaning behind Old Glory, it’s hard to believe that astronomy had nothing to do with the creation of the flag.
When looking at astronomically themed flags, state flags tend to stand out. In fact, 35 of the 50 states have a star, a sun, or a moon on their state flag design. Another interesting note is that famous astronomer Clyde Tombaugh lived in 5 states (see below) – all of which feature astronomy in their flag design. Tombaugh is credited with discovering Pluto, among other star constellations. With that being said, let’s take a look at some of these astronomically themed flags.
The Alaskan state flag has the most obvious connection to astronomy. The flag’s design features the big dipper star constellation on a blue sky background. Part of the big dipper is the North Star, which symbolizes Alaska’s northern location within the United States.
The Arizona state flag also has an obvious connection to astronomy, with a large star representing the sun. This star has 13 rays of light extending from it as it rises above the horizon.
Kansas’s state flag does not have the obvious connection to astronomy. However, its state motto is “To the Stars through Difficulties”. This motto is written on the flag using the Latin terms “Ad Astra per Astra”.
The Illinois state flag features a sun rising above the horizon shining down on our nation’s bird, the bald eagle.
The New Mexico flag features the famous Zia Sun symbol in red on the center of a yellow background. The flag highlights the state’s Spanish and Native American Pueblo roots.
The South Carolina flag features a crescent moon shining down on state’s official tree, the palmetto tree.
Credit: Arizona Daily Sun