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Published December 15, 2022 | Version v1
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The Moon and Milky Way arch Above the Golden Hall



Winner in the 2022 IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Still images of celestial patterns.


Taken in April 2021 from the top of the Laojun Mountain in China, this image shows a panoramic view of the Milky Way over the Golden Hall called “Yuhuangding” as a symbol of wealth. In China, the Milky Way is considered a huge stream like one of the big rivers. It separates the Cowherd (Altair) and his beloved Weaving Girl (Vega) and it has a Celestial Ford in the northern dark cloud in the modern constellation Cygnus.

The Milky Way appears as a whitish arch as we cannot distinguish all the individual stars, but instead see the accumulation of light from them. It is a disc-shaped galaxy and the Solar System is located within one of its spiral arms, so we see it from inside, which gives it the shape of a band in our sky. It is associated with the religions and mythologies of several cultures. The modern term Milky Way derives from Greek folklore as the milk spread in the sky by the mother goddess Hera, when she unwillingly breastfed young Heracles. This son of Zeus and a mortal woman was put next to her while she was asleep but from his strong sucking she woke up and realised she was feeding an unknown child, and immediately pushed the child away. Greek philosophers like Plato considered the glittering band in the sky to be the traces of a former path of the Sun.

Alternatively, for the Tupi-Guarani indigenous mythology from South America, the Milky Way represents the “path of tapir”. For some Australian native peoples, its dark clouds formed the shape of an emu if high in the sky, and of crocodiles if low on the horizon. For many southern African, South American and Australian cultures, it was considered a pathway to or from heaven. At the right edge of the image, we can recognise the modern constellation Scorpius with its most prominent star, Antares, the reddish star just above the Milky Way.

The brightest point seen in the centre bottom of the image is the rising Moon with Jupiter next to it. A few constellations can be distinguished in this image, including Corona Australis, a faint arc-shaped constellation located to the bottom right. Just above the Southern Crown, we can see the Teapot asterism as part of the Sagittarius constellation. Since Sagittarius lies next to the centre of the Milky Way, many structures such as star-forming regions, globular clusters and planetary nebulae can be found within its boundaries. In Sagittarius, we also find a supermassive black hole four million times as massive as our Sun.

At the left side of the band, we can identify the bright star Deneb in the constellation Cygnus, The Swan, through which the Milky Way runs, meaning that a variety of star clusters are found in this constellation.

Credit: Likai Lin/IAU OAE (CC BY 4.0)


Winner in the 2022 IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Still images of celestial patterns: The Moon and Milky Way arch Above the Golden Hall, by Likai Lin.jpg