By Mauri Rosenthal, Alex Rosenthal, and Nancy Taubenslag

The image is of a well-known nebula called the North America Nebula, thanks to the strong resemblance between the nebula shape and the shape of the North American continent. Whether or not the solver sees this resemblance, they should be able to learn the nebula’s name through any of the following:

  1. a Google image search
  2. checking on “NGC 7000” in the flavor text (this is the commonly used catalogue number for the nebula) with Google or a star chart
  3. the information labeled “Vegas and Orlando.” This small table below the image shows the catalog numbers for two stars which are positioned in the Nebula, information which can be gleaned from a Google search or star chart software. It may take someone with no astronomy background a bit of reading to ascertain that the numbers flanking the star catalog numbers are celestial coordinates for these stars, the Right Ascension (RA) and Declination (Dec), which play the same roles on a star chart as longitude and latitude on a terrestrial map.

While a solver familiar with astronomy and planetarium software may sort this out quicker, the pivotal “aha” can be found in the top Google hits for HD200407. The Simbad database shows the coordinates and has a small image of the star in an interactive “AladinLite view.” Clicking on this and zooming out will reveal the same thing that could be found in planetarium/star chart software – this star is found within the NA Nebula, and in fact is in a position that could correspond to Las Vegas if the Nebula were indeed a map of North America. Similar information can be found for the second star HD199547 and the solver will see that this is in the nebula region which approximates the Florida peninsula. The two labeled stars are indicated below for reference.

The solver will need to grasp that the table showing 12 sets of coordinates, which also lie in space within the nebula, are meant to indicate a series of cities on the North American continent. The alternating blue and pink colors will be related in some way to the text which says:

My World in blue

Stars Dance in pink

Note that the coincidental resemblance between the nebula and the continent means that there is no “correct” or “perfect” alignment of the two. The solver might want to go through the exercise of lining up the nebula image with a map. This step is not necessary, but it may help them get a good handle on the transformation they will need to do with the set of celestial coordinates to find specific locations in North America. If they’re skilled with Photoshop and make some good choices on maps, they may be able to solve the puzzle graphically by plotting the 12 sets of coordinates on the nebula image and then seeing how these points overlay with a map. There are a number of ways that this can go wrong, however, so solvers will almost certainly need to do an arithmetic transformation of the celestial RA and Dec into longitude and latitude to find the North American cities which are clued in the colored table. Either way, they will need to use the relationships between the two alignment stars and Las Vegas and Orlando.

The calculations used to set up the puzzle use the coordinates provided by a google search for Las Vegas and Orlando and are very likely to be the obvious starting point for solvers. These are:

Las Vegas36.1699412-115.1398296

The solver will also need to make the “aha” connection to Justin Bieber’s 2010 My World Tour, and his one-time girlfriend Selena Gomez’s 2013 Stars Dance Tour. Google search of the phrases “My World” and “Stars Dance” should turn up links to these tours, as they were the debut tours for each artist and were named after their debut solo albums. The puzzle title “Star Tours” should lead solvers to the tour information (rather than the albums); the Wikipedia entry for each tour includes the full sequence of cities and dates. The solver will need to look up the date from the appropriate tour in each of the clued cities to complete the grid labeled “Star Date” (“Star Date” has no real meaning but here refers to the month and date, e.g., 11/19). The puzzle cannot be solved without these dates.

To identify the cities, the solver will convert RA to Longitude and Dec to Latitude using the fixed ratios between Orlando and Las Vegas. In excel or Google Sheets they will do the following steps or similar:

  1. Coordinates are best manipulated when in digital format, so they will need to convert RA and Dec to digital from Hours, Minutes, Seconds and Degrees, Minutes and Seconds using formulas along these lines:
    • RA (digital) = (Hours)+(Minutes/60)+(Seconds/3600)
    • Dec (digital) = (Degrees)+(Minutes/60)+(Seconds/3600)
  2. Calculate these ratios:
    • ∆ for RA between the stars ⁄ ∆ for Longitude between the cities
    • ∆ for Dec between the stars ⁄ ∆ for Latitude between the cities
  3. Use the ratios to add the right ∆’s for Longitude and Latitude to the actual coordinates for Vegas (or Orlando depending on how you set up the arithmetic).
  4. This will generate a series of terrestrial coordinates for cities in digital form.
  5. The complete data table showing digital terrestrial coordinates and corresponding cities is shown below. Note that the cities can be efficiently identified by importing the latitude and longitude columns into Google’s My Maps. Simply pasting each set into Google Search one at a time will also work. The tour dates are also shown here and would be found from the Wikipedia data table for each of the two tours, but only after identifying the cities. Note that the tour lists also enable solvers to confirm cities like Broomfield (near Denver) for the answer grid.
Celestial RA Celestial Dec RA Dec Lat Long City Tour Date
2058594493820.983055555644.160555555635.4667375628-97.5256087304Oklahoma City11/03/10
20551944182520.921944444444.306944444439.3676672136-74.4593671155Atlantic City11/20/10
20551444212720.920555555644.357540.7148573397-73.9351343516New York City10/16/13
20598.24356220.985611111143.933888888929.426588426-98.4901970161San Antonio11/05/10

Complete the two indicated grids:


The last step of the extraction requires using the 12 digits of the answer as coordinates in degrees, minutes and seconds format (just as the original celestial coordinates are in minute and second format). “City and State” is a clear indication that we are looking for a location in the US. Placing any of the following into Google will bring a pointer to a location in Tennessee:

  • 36 06 59 -89 16 05
  • 36 06 59N 89 16 05W
  • 36°06’59” -89°16’05”
  • 36°06’59”N 89°16’05”W

Zooming in will show that the City and State are NEWBERN TENNESSEE.