Published December 15, 2022 | Version v1
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Winter Constellations


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

Taken from the Kottamia Astronomical Observatory, Cairo, Egypt, in December 2021, this image shows a few prominent winter constellations of the northern sky above the largest telescope in North Africa.

The photograph depicts the constellation of Orion (prominently in the middle of the image) with its belt of stars pointing up to Aldebaran in Taurus and down to Sirius in Canis Major. Aldebaran is a reddish star that we see in front of the open star cluster of the Hyades (at the upper right edge of the image), which is the face of Taurus, the bull. The bright white star is Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Its Greek name (Seirios) means “the burner” and can be understood metaphorically as “the brightest”.

This constellation has been represented in a variety of different cultures from all over the world. The ancient Egyptian religion also associates the constellation of Orion with a male figure, namely the god Osiris. It is told that Osiris was murdered by his envious brother Seth, who then dismembered the body and scattered the pieces all over the land. Fortunately, Osiris’s sister-wife Aset (Greek: Isis) is the most powerful sorceress and protective mother goddess. She collected the pieces, put them back together and breathed life back into the god. Aset is seen in the star pattern around the bright star Sirius at the bottom of the photograph. The Egyptian name for Sirius (and adjacent areas) is Sopdet (Greek: Sothis). The heliacal rise of Sirius in summer was a harbinger of the Egyptian new year. 

Going north, we can spot a bluish star. This is Alhena, one of the stars in the feet of the zodiacal constellation Gemini, the twins, whose bright head stars would be beyond the upper left edge of the photograph. In the top centre we can see the star Elnath, in the constellation of Auriga, the charioteer. It is associated with Erichthonius, a hero of Greek mythology believed to be the inventor of the four-horse chariot. This same star is also considered the tip of the upper horn of Taurus, the bull. In Greek mythology Taurus is associated with the god Zeus who had sent him to rob a princess. It is commonly known that this Greek story was invented in order to include the Babylonian constellation in Greek mythology. In the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh saga, which is one of the oldest pieces of literature that we know (being traced back to the 3rd millennium), Taurus is the bull of heaven, sent by a jealous goddess and defeated by the king of Uruk to save his people. In the sky it harbours several interesting astronomical objects.

Credit: Mohamed Aboushelib/IAU OAE (CC BY 4.0)


Winner in the 2022 IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Still images of celestial patterns: Winter Constellations, by Mohamed Aboushelib.jpg