Published December 15, 2022 | Version v1
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Honourable mention in the 2022 IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Still images of celestial patterns.


This image shows the Milky Way crossing the sky above the historical Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, a mountainous region in California, USA, in May 2021.

The star directly above the shore is Antares, a red supergiant in the heart of the Scorpion. To its left, the clouds of the Milky Way seem to emerge from the same point of the horizon as the rocky landmass. Above the land, below the Milky Way in the left quarter of the image, is another bright star, Altair, the bright star in Aquila, the Eagle.

The scorpion is considered a dangerous animal, so scorpion-men (human-scorpion hybrids) guarded the gate to the Netherworld in ancient Babylonian stories, as reported in the Gilgamesh saga. The Eagle, in contrast, appears in the Babylonian saga of King Etana who was taken to the sky by an Eagle and describes the world that he sees below him with increasing distance. Both heroes, Gilgamesh and Etana, are searching for the “herb of life” but one of them by going down, the other by travelling upwards. Gilgamesh aims to get back his dead friend Enkidu and to become immortal himself, while Etana is seeking the herb to help his wife become pregnant. The scorpion and the eagle are the animals supporting these heroes in their search, that ultimately remained unsuccessful. Gilgamesh finally learned that humans can only become immortal by their good deeds for humanity. The Eagle was also recognised in Greek culture, but it was only in Roman times that it became a messenger of a dead soul, carrying it towards the eternal stars. This was when Ptolemy created a constellation to represent the soul of Antinuous below the classical Eagle. This young friend and consultant of the Roman emperor Hadrian drowned in the Nile only seven years before the completion of the Almagest, and the whole Roman empire observed a state of national mourning.

The Milky Way is seen as a “pathway of souls” by many cultures, but in the Babylonian culture, this is not the case. Still, in Greco-Roman philosophy, the bright white parts of it between Antares and Altair, at the intersection of the Milky Way and the Zodiac do have a meaning: Plato, Macrobius and other philosophers refer to it as “the X in the sky”, and the second Celestial Gate was probably considered to be here (the first one being the gate formed by the Hyades and Pleiades).

These celestial pathways and gates, depicted above a gigantic bridge in the landscape and a site where the realms of land and ocean meet, make for an incredibly charged photograph. Additionally, the dark clouds in the Milky Way directly above the land form one of the two large dark constellations of the crocodiles, as interpreted by some people in southern Australia.

Credit: Marcin Zajac/IAU OAE (CC BY 4.0)


Honourable mention in the 2022 IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Still images of celestial patterns: Drive, by Marcin Zajac.jpg