Published December 15, 2022 | Version v1
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Equatorial Milky Way



Honourable mention in the 2022 IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Still images of celestial patterns: Equatorial Milky Way


Taken in Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, Java Island, Indonesia, in March 2016, this image captures regions of the southern Milky Way and, at its left edge, the two planets Mars and Saturn. Mars appears orange and is similar in colour to the star Antares, whose Greek name — anti Ares — references this. Saturn is a little bit fainter than Mars, but clearly visible among the stars of Ophiuchus, above the Pipe Nebula and forming an isosceles triangle with Mars and Antares.

Mars is on the top and Saturn is vertically below. Visible to the naked eye, both planets have significance in many cultures around the world. In Roman mythology Mars is the god of war and fertility, and Saturn the god of sowing and agriculture. Its Greek equivalent, the god Kronos, is also considered the regent of completion. Indigenous Australians, including the Kamilaroi and Wailan people, associate Saturn with “wunygal”, a small bird. Mars is called Iherm-penh (something burnt in flames) by the Anmatyerre people of the Central Desert, while the Kokatha people of the Western Desert associate Mars and the star Anatres with the red-tailed black cockatoo (Kogolongo).

In the middle of this photograph, the most famous southern constellations are clearly recognisable: the Southern Cross (Crux), the pointer stars, Alpha and Beta Centauri, the dark Coalsack Nebula and the red Eta Carina Nebula, which is not visible to the unaided eye but is prominent in modern photographs. In the 19th century, the star eta Carinae had been the second-brightest star in the sky for some time, but since it varies irregularly, it has hardly been recognisable in recent decades, and its future visibility is unpredictable.

Triangulum Australe is visible between the pointer stars and the Scorpion, and in the constellation of Centaurus, the bright globular star cluster Omega Centauri is clearly displayed. It was considered a “nebulous star” since antiquity and, thus, was listed in star catalogues for at least 2000 years. Only within the last century did astronomers discover that globular star clusters are in the halo of our galaxy and that this one consists of roughly 10 million stars.

The dark regions in the Milky Way, which are cool, dense clouds of dust and gas, form the head and body of the Celestial Emu Tchingal. Together with the Southern Cross and the pointer stars, they appear in the Dreamtime stories of many Indigenous Australians. One story associated with the Djab Wurrung and the Jardwadjali people is part of a Dreamtime Story involving Tchingal, the Bram-bram-bult brothers (the pointer stars), their mother Druk (Delta Crux), and Bunya the hunter, who gets transformed into a possum (Gacrux, the red star at the top of the Southern Cross).

Credit: Giorgia Hofer/IAUOAE (CC BY 4.0)


Honourable mention in the 2022 IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Still images of celestial patterns: Equatorial Milky Way, by Giorgia Hofer.jpg