GAM 2019 Blog

By Jeff Dai

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For over 2000 years, the Silk Road has been connecting the east and west world since the Han Dynasty. With its thousands of miles, the Silk Road became an important channel for politics, economy and culture exchanges between the Eastern and Western civilizations. The starry sky is the precious part of nature resources and important culture for human beings. All the people along the Silk Road share the same view of starry sky for all the time.

In recent years, I was traveling along the Silk Road to capture the landmarks at night. Below are photos to show the colorful landscapes, historical heritages, and unique starry cultures of the different countries along the Silk Road. 

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The arc of the Milky Way is captured in this panorama view from Dafang Square Castle, at Yumen Pass, Gansu province of China.

A world heritage site today, Yumen Pass is the name of a pass of the Great Wall located west of Dunhuang. During the Han dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD), this was a pass through which the Silk Road passed and was the one road connecting Central Asia and China, the former called the Western Regions. Bright planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars are visible on the right.

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Bright star Spica highlight the night sky of Alamut in the central Alborz Mountains of Iran.

Alamut Castle (2160 m) was built into the rock in the 9th century. The name means "Eagle's Nest." Home of the legendary Assassins featured in the adventure movie, "Prince of Persia", Alamut was also historically a center for libraries and education. For a time, it was the residence of important 13th century Persian scholar and astronomer Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (or simply known as Tusi).

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Aurora borealis above the Arctic Ocean from Teriberka, Murmansk, Russia.

The aurora were really crazy, painting swirls all around the sky above me, The show lasted for well over 50 minutes with very powerful arches shining across the skies, then filled the sky in all directions in 2 hours. The strongest one is the aurora with pink, green, and even white auroras.

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Starry night above the Temple of Wat Mahathat in the historical heritage Sukhothai, Thailand.

This panoramic view shows a lotus-bud shaped chedi to the left, a large mandapa with a 12 meter tall standing Buddha image in the center, and a stepped pyramid chedi to the right. Despite the light pollution of nearby city Sukhothai, the setting summer Milky Way can be seen over the ancient structures with close conjunction of Venus and Saturn over the horizon. Mars is also visible just to the left of the Milky way.

Wat Mahathat was founded by Sri Indraditya, between 1292 and 1347 as the main temple of the city as well as the ancient Sukhothai Kingdom. The design based on Mandala, representing the universe with main principal stupa.  The main stupa represents the mythical Mount Meru, center of the universe, which is the heavenly abode build by the God Indra to enshrine relics of the Buddha. The surrounding stupas represent mountain ranges around Mount Meru, and the moat symbolizes the cosmic ocean of infinity.

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The endless grassland of Kazakstan just after sunset.

In 2017,I attended a self-driving team from China to Europe. It's a 10,000 km trip in 40 days through China, Kazakstan, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.

The most memorable moment was driving through the endless grassland of Kazakstan just after sunset. It's a place of vast region of open grassland, so the vision is very wide and the passing scenery was almost the same. But when the night hide the world and the familiar stars appear in the beautiful evening twilight, driving on the road made you feel truly that we were driving on the surface of planet Earth among the vast ocean of the universe. This is what we were doing at that moment (traveling from China to Europe).

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The night sky from Sagamartha national park of Nepal.

My Himalayan passion got me into quite a few predicaments from time to time as I disregarded safety and hiked with heavy photographic equipment for hours, fell into the freezing river, and got lost in the wilderness at night. But when I capture the stars shine above Mount Everest, the top of the world. I realized whatever happened it was well worth it!

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Traveling along the Silk Road, the precious harvest is not only the beautiful scenery and culture but also the friendship with amateur astronomers all along the way.

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The starry sky is a bridge of amateur astronomers and astro-photoraphers all over the world. Together, sharing the same passion and dreams towards the starry sky, we have successfully overcome the differences of nations, races, languages, and skin color, to build up friendships and understandings among all of us. This is a true demonstration of “One People, One Sky”, the spirit of Astronomers Without Borders.


Jeff Dai, is a national coordinator of Astronomers Without borders in China. A photographer of TWAN, The World At Night. And an activity of IDA Beijing. See more photos from Jeff:

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Star trails above the Wolfsberg in Germany.

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Milky way rise above Ternate, Indonesia.