Watchtower and Paddy Fields Under the Starry Sky

Image title: Watchtower and Paddy Fields Under the Starry Sky
Author: Likai Lin
Country: China, Nanjing

This image, taken in April 2022, shows the sky over a plantation field around a century-old watchtower guarding a village in the province of Guangdong, China. Throughout the ages, the sky has been used as a tool for navigation and also as a calendar. By watching the apparent movement of the stars, it is possible to follow the passing of time, thereby understanding the change of the seasons which in turn helps to plan out the best timings of agricultural work.

The most prominent constellations in this image are Orion and Canis Major, the Great Dog. Commonly associated with a giant hunter in Greek mythology, Orion is followed by his hound in the shape of the constellation Canis Major.

In China, the seven bright stars of the constellation Orion are paradoxically called Three Stars (Shen) and this is one of the 28 Lunar Mansions. The Babylonian pre-zodiac, the so-called “Path of the Moon”, had 17 constellations and included Orion (therein named “True Shepherd of the Heavens”). This is not really surprising because, even in the system of the 88 modern constellations, the Moon sometimes stands in the constellation Orion. The modern constellation boundaries were defined in the 1920s in such a way that the area of Orion ends a half degree south of the ecliptic, in order to avoid the Sun entering it. Still, the Moon and the planets do occasionally. Therefore, Orion is part of the Zodiac (a stripe 5 to 10 degrees around the ecliptic), part of the path of the Moon and, of course, also used by many cultural calendars all over the world.

Sirius, the bright star in the left half of the photograph, is the brightest star in the night sky, and has been used by many indigenous cultures to determine their calendars; the Egyptians awaited the Nile flood with Sirius’s heliacal rise, while the Romans connected its reappearance after its invisibility in daylight with the hottest summer time. In Old China, Sirius was considered a single-star asterism called The Wolf. The adjacent area was called The Market for Soldiers and the area in the southern part of Canis Major was imagined as the Bow with an Arrow.

The reddish bright star in the top right corner is Betelgeuse, a red supergiant and one of the largest stars that can be seen with the naked eye. Orion’s Great Nebula below Orion’s Belt should be mentioned, but also the fainter huge red arc that is called Barnard’s Loop is clearly shown in this photograph. This galactic nebula and the circular red nebula around Orion’s not-so-bright head are both parts of star-forming regions, while the red nebula to the upper left of Orion is the Rosette Nebula in the unrecognisable constellation of Monoceros.

Also see image in Zenodo:


Likai Lin/IAU OAE

About the Image

Release date:
15 December 2022, 12:00
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