Dreamlike Starry Sky and Airglow

Image title: Dreamlike Starry Sky and Airglow
Author: Likai Lin
Country: China, Nanjing

This spectacular image shows a range of prominent constellations visible in the night sky over the desert of inner Mongolia, taken in August 2019. The yellowish star in the bottom left side is Arcturus, one of the brightest stars in the night sky, and the brightest in the constellation Boötes. The handle of the Big Dipper points towards this bright star and the Dipper is also visible above Boötes. The Northern Dipper (Bei Dou) is a traditional Chinese constellation. It is considered a chariot in which the Judges for Nobility are sitting. Arcturus is considered a single-star asterism, named the Horn, which forms part of the Chinese super-constellation for the spring, the Azure Dragon of the East. The front of the Northern Dipper points towards the star at the top of the photograph which is now called Polaris, the northern Pole Star. In ancient China, there was no bright star at the pole, so the stars in the nearest vicinity of the pole were considered to belong to the emperor and his family in the constellation the Purple Forbidden Palace. At least as early as mediaeval times, Polaris was considered part of the constellation of the Great Emperor of Heaven.

Corona Borealis is also visible in the top right corner of this image, although not in its completeness. It is called the Coiled Thong in China. With its characteristic semi-circular shape, this is one of the smaller constellations of the 88 modern ones, but also can be traced back at least three or four millennia through the Roman “Crown”, the Greek wedding “Wreath”, and the Babylonian “Asterism of Dignity”. The modern name literally means “Northern Crown” in Latin.

At the upper-right edge of the image, we find the part of the modern constellation Cassiopeia that is considered the Flying Corridor and an Auxiliary Road in ancient China. The W-shape of Cassiopeia is cut off by the edge of the photograph but the constellations to its south and southeast, Andromeda and Perseus, are clearly recognisable. Prominently we see the Andromeda galaxy, the most distant object that is visible to the unaided eye. It is located at the outermost outliers of the band of the Milky Way, which could explain why it has not been mentioned explicitly in ancient star catalogues, as it was mistakenly thought to be part of the Milky Way. The photograph also shows clearly reddish parts of the Milky Way that don’t appear bright to the naked eye, and also open clusters that are formed from the same molecular cloud, i.e., groups of stars with similar ages. This region is part of many big and small asterisms in traditional Chinese uranology.

Also see image in Zenodo: https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7425254


Likai Lin/IAU OAE

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Release date:
15 December 2022, 12:00
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