(Pocket-lint) – Perhaps more than any other type of photography, astronomical photography is just insanely impressive – the degree of patience and control required to get good photos of the night sky, let alone distant stars and planets, is hard to overstate.
That’s one of the reasons why there are awards dedicated entirely to astronomy photographs.
The Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition is run by the Royal Observatory Greenwich, supported by Liberty Specialty Markets and in association with BBC Sky at Night Magazine.
Each year the competition receives thousands of different entries from all over the world. This year has had 3,000 entries from 67 countries. Now the shortlist has been announced. We’ve collected some of the shortlisted images, as you’ll see they’re astounding. Be sure to head over to the official site to see more.
Shortlisted for the Annie Maunder Prize for Digital Innovation, this image by Sergio Díaz Ruiz shows our sun in a way you’ve probably never seen.
“This image depicts the busy surface and coronal activity of the Sun at 22:08 Universal Time on 15 February 2022. A powerful Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), shown in deep red in the upper left corner, erupted on the far side. Intriguing formations of plumes (in blue), coronal holes (in dark teal) and filaments (brown) are also represented. To capture all this activity in one image, it was necessary to combine observations in multiple wavelengths in the extreme ultraviolet.”
Naturally, these astronomy photos include a lot of amazing shots of space. With modern technology, we’re able to observe these marvels in greater detail.
“Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille first observed what later became known as the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy on 23 February 1752 from the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. This image, taken exactly 270 years later, combines a deep set of H-alpha exposures along with colour data to highlight the ruby-like star-forming regions of this beautiful barred spiral galaxy. “
This image was shortlisted for Sir Patrick Moore Prize for Best Newcomer and it’s easy to see why.
“Messier 78 is a reflection nebula near Orion. The image also includes the nebulae NGC 2064, NGC 2067 and NGC 2071. “
Circles and Curves
This sort of image shows the sheer amount of effort that goes into award-winning photos. This one took no less than 33 long exposures to craft. Impressive stuff.
“Viewed from under a quadruple arch, the stars circle around Polaris, in this stack of 33 four-minute exposures. California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range fills the horizon and Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the continental United States, is on the far left. “
The Starry Sky Over the World’s Highest National Highway
With images like this, the majesty of the Milky Way is undeniable. An incredible view that certainly deserves to appear in the shortlist.
“The illuminated National Highway 219, the highest national highway in the world, snakes through the foreground, almost mirroring the majestic image of the Milky Way above. The two are separated by Kula Kangri, a mountain located in Shannan Prefecture, Tibet.”
Above the Lunar South Pole
This image was created with photos taken in San Diego, California and is a composite which shows an impressive view of the moon in incredible detail.
“A composite of images of the lunar south pole created on two different dates (giving different views of the region). It one of the most detailed amateur-produced maps of this part of the moon, which is very difficult to observe from Earth.”
Riverside of Funakawa in Spring
Some of the best astronomy photos are simply ones that also show a fantastic view of our home planet. Striking colours of these cherry trees backdropped by the vastness of space.
“When the Funakawa River was renovated in 1957, approximately 280 Yoshino cherry trees were planted on both banks of the embankment. They draw the eyeline towards the distant horizon, into an inky blue sky with only the hazy moonlight breaking through the darkness.”
Previous competition entries
The above are the shortlisted images from this year but there have been many fantastic images in previous years that are worth seeing to get a taste of the calibre of images deemed to be award winners.
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The Milky Ring
Polar Lights Dance
The winner from 2021’s Aurorae category, this photo shows the wonder of the polar lights captured while on approach to the Kara Strait, Russia.
Photographer Dmitrii Rybalka spoke about what happened – “I was keeping watch at night as Third Officer on the bridge of the ship, when I noticed in the sky a tiny white band approaching like a snake. I knew already, this is it, this is that I was waiting for. I took my camera, went to the bridge wing, took my position and started waiting, like a hunter waiting for its prey. A few minutes later, the sky was full of bright green lights dancing in darkness and shining over everything on their way. I had felt that it was my mission to share this beauty with world.”
The Sun sharing its Crown
This photo is one of the runner-up images from the “Our Sun” category of the awards in 2021.
This incredibly well-timed photo not only shows a brilliant view of a total solar eclipse, but if you look carefully you’ll also spy a comet in the top right of the frame.
The Green Lady
This stunning image has it all – aurora borealis dancing in the sky, in a sublime mix of greens and blues, all suspended above an ice-cold lake and the hints of human habitation in the form of that lit-up little town. It’s a bit of a wonder, really.
The Many Jets and Shells of Centaurus A
A jaw-dropping image of the infinite variety of space, with those promintent jets in the centre providing a science-fiction-esque focal point. This looks like something out of Star Wars, no?
The Moon And the Shard
The moon hovers ominously behind London’s Shard, all of it lit up perfectly to highlight the building’s consturction in contrast to the marvellou detail captured on the moon’s surface.
Aptly titled, this photo does an amazing job of balancing the deep, luscious colour of the aurora in the sky against the amazing show it’s projecting into the impossibly clear chunks of ice on the ground.
This photo takes you behind the curtain, showing a lone photographer taking a picture of an eclipse, and showcasing how remote one must travel to find the best light.
Sunspots AR 2741 and AR 2740
The sun’s surface is a bit of a mystery to most of us layfolk, but all know that sunspots exist – here’s an impressive image capturing just two of them, neither hintint at the enormous energy that their appearance actually entails.
A desesrt scene that’s beautifully lit by the smorgasbord of light and stars in the sky above, an entire constellation and galaxy suspended beautifully.
Dance Over the Swamp
We don’t often think of the Northern Lights as occurring over swamps, but here it is nonetheless, and that placid reflection is the key to this photo’s stellar success.
Once again, here the contrast between land and sky is the key, with the amazing purples and pinks of the night lighting up the frame beautifully, viewed from within a cluster of rocks framing the action.
Painting the Sky
That astonishing selection of colours, lighting up the sky in ways that most of us will never live to see in person, makes for an amazing tableau. We think this picture is named perfectly.
It’s no mean feat to capture the surface of a planet like Jupiter in this way, from such a distance, but this image gives you a great sense of the roiling chaos that its surface would actually be.
This great shot is a miracle of timing, with a wisp of cloud passing before the moon and causing this otherworldly effect – it’s like something out a giallo horror film, and we love it.
This amazing timelapse over some paddies is a beautiful reminder of how time’s passing is inevitable, and we particularly love how the exposure concentrates the lights of human dwellings in the frame’s centre.
Milky Way and meteor at Porthgwarra
The boat in the image is a perfect focal point, bridging the two near-symmetrical sides of the composition and drawing the viewer out. We can’t be the only ones who’d love to hop in for a journey, right?
The photographer’s dog Trixy is the star of the show here, artfully silhouetted in front of a bright and huge moon, the focal length making it seem almost impossibly large. It’s a delightful, fun composition.
Lone Tree under a Scandinavian Aurora
Tom Archer’s breath-taking image of a lone snow-covered tree sitting beneath the Scandinavian Aurora was chosen as a runner up in the Aurorae category for 2020. But it’s still a staggering shot in our opinion and Mandy Bailey, Astronomy Secretary for the Royal Astronomical Society agrees:
“This is one of my favourite images from this year’s competition. It is peaceful and serene yet also powerful.”
Another runner up photo, this time from the Young Competition, shows an incredibly detailed photo for eh sun taken with a mix of a telescope and clever filters to result in an amazing view complete with solar disc and prominence.
Susan Derges, fine art photographer, commented:
“The Sun feels enormous and powerful, with its edge arching across the image and the swirling contents of the solar disc look as if they are actually moving. The combining of the two images in Photoshop – solar disc and prominence – is well executed and works effectively, so I’m not surprised the photographer is pleased with the result. It’s a wonderful image.”
Roshaan Nadeem’s amazing image of the moon appears to be a combination of photos of a Waxing Gibbous Moon and Full Moon, with wonderful results that give the Moon a three-dimensional effect.
Startrails in Namib Desert
This photo of startrails was taken in the Namib desert and chosen as another Young Competition runner-up. We love the results of this photographer’s efforts with the Canon EOS 6D. Impressive stuff.
Southern Cross over Siding Spring
If you want to feel insignificant, just take a look at this photo by GuangHao Yu which shows a seemingly impossible view of the unconscionable number of stars in the skies above us.
Milky Way Falls from the Sky
The perfect framing of this photo makes it look like the Milky Way is emanating from between these mountains.
We also love how the clear view of the water’s surface reflecting the surroundings and drawing the eye away from the stars above.
The winner of the Stars and Nebulae category was given to this image by Peter Ward showing the wonders of space in the raging cosmic inferno.
Melanie Vandenbrouck, Curator of Art (post-1800) at Royal Museums Greenwich commented:
“Creation, elements, fire, brimstone and wonder. This astonishing image conjures up these pictures that also represent the first moments of the Universe, before stars were formed. It’s a moving reminder that when we look up to the night sky, we tend to do so with earthly concerns on our minds, whether unconsciously or consciously as seen here. The tragedy of the 2019 bushfires in Australia shook people around the world; in the age of climate change, this extraordinarily beautiful picture urges us not to let our children’s future go up in flames.”
The Faint Surroundings of the Helix Nebula
This image apparently took Josep Drudis over 50 hours to capture. It shows the Helix Nebula, one of the closest bright planetary nebulae to Earth. This is a location of space where a star is thought to have shed its outer layers during its evolution.
This photo by Christopher Small was chosen as a runner up in the Skyscapes category and seems to show the universe rushing by with the wonder of continued expansion happening around us as we sit still.
Paul Wilson’s photo not only has us admiring the beauty of space, but also made us smile as it appropriately throws a question mark into the sky where we’d wonder what’s out there.
Karijini National Park
Another striking view of the Milky Way once again appearing to show the wonder of space emerging from the waters of our own world.
Stefan Liebermann took this image for the Skyscapes category while at Karijini National Park and the results are incredible.
Try not to get too distracted by the lava eruption bursting forth from the landscape as you breathe in this view of the night’s sky. What an impressive snap!
This stunning view seems to show a brilliant view of the starry night from within a cave. An eerie and beautiful mist hangs over the water’s surface adding to the overall majesty of the photo.
Azure Vapor Tracers
Don’t worry, this isn’t an alien invasion or some sort of massive space jellyfish, instead it’s a photo of a man-made event happening thanks to NASA.
These vapour trailers were created by the AZURE experiment where rockets fired harmless gasses into the upper atmosphere of our planet in order to observe the dispersal from below. This experiment was designed to help “…increase humanity’s understanding of how the solar wind transfers energy to the Earth and powers aurora.”
This photo by Yulia Zhulikova looks like it could work just as well on Instagram as it does in a photography competition. A lone lady stands wielding an umbrella under a shower of stars by the water’s edge.
Self-portrait under the Milky Way
A man walking on water, a superbly framed view of the starry sky and an awesome reflection too. What more could you want?
Tycho Crater Region with Colours
The winner of the Our Moon category of the 2020 awards shows a vivid and colourful view of the moon. The colours highlighting the different minerals and materials that make up the surface.
Emily Drabek-Maunder, astrophysicist, astronomer and science communicator at Royal Observatory Greenwich commented:
“This vibrant image teases out the faint colours on the surface of the Moon. Not only is this composition visually striking, but it highlights the different materials the Moon is made up of, all from the safety of the Earth.”
Once in a Blue Moon
Rob Mogford used his talent to show off what you can do with a good telescope and some snazzy photography skills.
A brilliant view of our moon that makes it look like a blue marble hanging in the blackness of space.
An unusual view of Our Sun, with a peaceful, ultraviolet theme.
This image was highly commended in its category and lead László Francsics, Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2019 Overall Winner to comment:
“The symmetry of this image is fascinating and the unusual but exciting ultraviolet colour palette adds a unique twist to it. This is a nice example showing that the extraordinarily calm Sun surface, that might be a monotonous scene, can also be captured artistically and to an outstanding standard.”
House under Rainbow Aurora
Love the idea of a rural retreat with views that’ll blow your socks off? Then this is the photo for you.
Wang Zheng managed to capture this incredible photo of a colourful Aurora and was selected as a runner-up in that category of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2020 awards.
A breathtaking view that’s good enough to make you want to move house to somewhere a lot colder. This image was a runner-up in the Aurorae 2020 category of the awards and it’s easy to see why.
Writing by Max Freeman-Mills and Adrian Willings.
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