Published December 15, 2022 | Version v1
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Luminous Salar de Uyuni


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


This black and white image taken in February 2017 in Uyuni Salt Flat of southwest Bolivia, the biggest salt flat in the world, shows one of the most recognisable constellations, Orion the hunter, and the open star cluster of the Hyades directly above the clouds at the horizon. Various cultures have different stories associated with Orion. The Aymara in this area of the world (Bolivia and Northern Chile) consider Orion’s Belt to be a Sky Bridge (chacka cilitu) or a Stairway made out of dough. This stairway is rather obvious in this picture. It appears as if the stars in the sky are scattered like grains of salt on the ground — an amazing composition.

For the Aymara, who were Christianised by the Spanish conquistadores, Orion and the Stairway are connected to the November festivals of the dead ancestors and the souls. In contrast to the original Christian culture, for these people in the southern hemisphere these festivals mark the beginning of summer, not the beginning of winter. While in the north, the “ghosts” of the ancestors are represented by the foggy weather in November, the Aymara greet the ancestors with flowers. This photograph in the dry salt flat, in contrast, seems to show the unlivable loneliness where the photographer meets the souls of the deceased.

The Yolnu people of Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territory have a rich culturally significant story associated with Orion that carries a lesson. It tells of the three brothers of the Kingfish clan and their canoe Djulpan. Owing to their lack of patience, the brothers ate the sacred Kingfish, angering the Sun woman Walu who created a waterspout that sent them into the sky. Looking at the constellation Orion, the three stars in Orion’s belt represent the three brothers, Orion’s sword is the fishing line, and the two dimmer stars Bellatrix and Saiph form the two ends of the canoe Djulpan.

Credit: Ziyi Stephanie Ye/IAU OAE (CC BY 4.0)


Winner in the 2022 IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Still images of celestial patterns: Luminous Salar de Uyuni, by Ziyi Stephanie Ye.JPG