11 of the Best Astronomy Photographs to Inspire Awe and Wonder
By Royal Museums Greenwich / rmg.co.uk

The Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition is an annual celebration of the most beautiful and spectacular visions of the cosmos by astrophotographers worldwide. In 2015 the competition launched for its seventh year with new categories and more prizes up for grabs. The winning images are showcased in an exhibition at the Royal Observatory Greenwich until 26 June 2016. Here are the winners of each catagory:

Skyscapes winner and overall winner

Eclipse Totality over Sassendalen by Luc Jamet (France)

What the photographer says:

This is a picture of the 2015 solar eclipse as seen from Svalbard. Totality had begun 16 seconds before this picture was taken, about 100 metres above Sassendalen, Spitsbergen. The photo is an HDR [High Dynamic Range] composition made from three takes. We can see clearly the lunar shadow’s edge in the sky. The bright spot in the upper left of the photo is Venus.

What the judges say:

‘This is just a supremely beautiful image, which got joint admiration from all of the judges. The colours are perfect and the blend of the isolated snowy landscape frames the surreal majesty of the totally eclipsed Sun perfectly. It’s an incredibly peaceful image.’ Pete Lawrence

‘It is one of those heart-stoppingly beautiful shots for which you feel grateful to the photographer for sharing such an exceptional moment. The delicate disc of the occulted Sun is perfectly silhouetted in the sky, and you can almost feel the below-zero temperature, the cool breeze of the Arctic. The snow is pristine, as if no one had ever stepped on it. This is an otherworldly landscape, which could be on an as-yet-unexplored planet.’ Melanie Vandenbrouck

Aurorae

Silk Skies by Jamen Percy (Australia)

What the photographer says:

After waiting many hours on top of the mountain for the aurora, I finally gave up and decided to call it a night. I packed up my gear and began to walk back. As I stumbled down the hill I noticed the snow reflecting a green glow (you can see my footprints on the left). I quickly turned around and I looked up to see this. I didn’t have time to move – I had to take the picture from where I stood – but the soft, snowy slope created a pleasant composition so I stayed there, in awe.

What the judges say:

‘This is an amazing capture. The aqua blues against the diagonal of the mountain. It’s evocative of a close view of Uranus.’ Jon Culshaw

Galaxies

M33 Core by Michael van Doorn (Netherlands)

What the photographer says:

We have excellent seeing conditions here in the Netherlands for just a few days every year. This time I used these days for shooting high-resolution luminance of our magnificent neighbouring galaxy. I shot the colour and H-alpha [Hydrogen-alpha] data with a super-fast f/2.0 telescope. Combined together, the data gave me a chance to create this picture of the inside structures of M33, the Triangulum Galaxy. The image is special for me because it can only be made once in a few years from my location.

What the judges say:

‘This is one of the best images – amateur or professional – of Messier 33 that I've ever seen. The mass of sparkling blue stars and ruby-red nebulae really draw your eye deep into the picture.’  Will Gater

Our Moon

Full Face of our Moon by András Papp (Hungary)

What the photographer says:

I started my project to capture the whole of the Moon’s face on camera by focusing on the dark half of the lunar disc. I went through along the terminator (the boundary between light and dark) and then I had plenty of time to capture the rest of the dark side. I continued shooting the dark side with the parts furthest from the terminator and I finished by capturing the terminator area. To preserve the sense of the Moon caught at exactly at half phase, I recorded all the images on the same night.

What the judges say:

‘The perfect symmetry of this half-moon shot gives it a very striking appearance and the combination of crisp detail on the sunlit side and the faint glow of reflected Earth-light on the dark side is very impressive.’ Marek Kukula

Our Sun

Huge Prominence Lift-off by Paolo Porcellana (Italy)

What the photographer says:

When I saw that this huge prominence was starting to detach from the surface of the Sun I decided to capture its trip to space. Because of its massive size it kept a visible structure even at a great distance from the Sun’s disc. I reduced the focal length to 2m and captured six panels to make a big mosaic. That remarkable projected arm of fire reached a length of more than 700,000km in its process of detachment.

What the judges say:

‘I absolutely love this picture, showing the blistering kiss of the Sun on the photographic lens: it conveys how fiery, destructive, but also alluring our very own star can be.’ Melanie Vandenbrouck

People & Space

Sunset Peak Star Trail by Chap Him Wong (Hong Kong)

What the photographer says:

At 869m (2851 feet), Sunset Peak is Hong Kong’s third-highest mountain and it is particularly beautiful in autumn. The stone cottages on its slopes were originally built by the British and other westerners for their summer vacations: now these old buildings have become wind shelters for campers. Above the peak covered with gold and silver grass, the tantalizing sky reveals the Milky Way and stars beyond. Little wonder that Sunset Peak has become one of the most popular locations for hiking and photography in Hong Kong.

What the judges say:

‘The long exposure used to achieve the star trails and winding paths of light creates a unique and beautiful record of our existence on the Planet as it travels through space.’ Chris Bramley

Planets, Comets & Asteroids

The Arrow Missed the Heart by Lefteris Velissaratos (Greece)

What the photographer says:

This image shows the journey of Comet/2014 E2 Jacques in the path of the spectacular NGC 896 Nebula. That’s something you don't see more than once in a lifetime.

What the judges say:

‘A tough picture to do well because the comet moves relative to the background nebula. Some great structure is visible in the comet’s tail and there’s a lovely colour contrast between the red nebula and the comet’s head.’ Pete Lawrence

Best Newcomer

Orion DT by David Tolliday (UK)

What the photographer says:

This image of the Orion and the Running Man Nebulae was taken on my first night of astrophotography at the dark-sky location in Elan Valley, mid-Wales. I usually take wildlife photographs so borrowed an Astrotrac mount. The temperature was -2°C, there was ice on the tripod, and my camera bag was white with frost. I photographed red kites during the day and the sky at night. This was one of my most enjoyable photography days ever.

What the judges say:

‘To capture such a delicate image of this region in Orion is impressive, but to do it on a first night imaging under the stars is remarkable! A worthy winner.’ Chris Bramley

Robotic Scope

Comet C/2013 A1 alongside Mars by Sebastian Voltmer(Germany)

What the photographer says:

At the end of 2012, I visited Siding Spring Observatory. On that day, Comet C/2013 A1 scraped past Mars. This event was visible over the horizon for just an hour. Astrophotographer Raffaele Esposito took an RGB-sequence [Red/Green/Blue] in binning mode, which he let me use to create this high resolution LRGB-composite [Luminance/Red/Green/Blue]. I submitted this image because it shows an exciting event that was only visible from a few places close to the horizon at dusk.

What the judges say:

‘A great astronomical event captured for everyone to see. The close encounter between Mars and Comet Siding Spring was a reminder that comets can sometimes collide with planets — another good reason why humanity should keep its eyes on the sky!’ Marek Kukula

Stars & Nebulae

The Magnificent Omega Centauri by Ignacio Diaz Bobillo (Argentina)

What the photographer says:

I always come back to this spectacular object, especially when it is high up in the sky on a night of good seeing, as in this case. By using a full-frame camera, I was able to bring into the frame a few galaxies in the background, as well as a hint of IFN [Integrated Flux Nebula]. Star colour is always challenging when using OSC [One-Shot Colour] cameras.

What the judges say:

‘This is a supremely well captured image: there are pin-sharp stars all the way from the edge of the frame to the very centre of the glittering globular cluster. Look closely and you’ll see some distant background galaxies too – a true delight!’ Chris Bramley

Young competition (under 16s)

A Celestial Visitor by George Martin (UK) aged 15

What the photographer says:

Having seen two comets previously, and having bought a new telescope, I decided to have a shot at what the display of C/2014 (Lovejoy) could hopefully offer. I could see the comet both with my eyes and through the eyepiece, and noticed how fast it moved when flicking through photos. I knew it would be an issue to stack, as the comet would appear blurred. Having separated the detail from the light pollution, the tail can be easily seen. It is fantastic to think that Lovejoy will not be visible again for another 8000 years.

What the judges say:

‘Comets can be tricky subjects to capture well because they tend to move independently of the stars. Here, the photographer has taken individual, shorter exposures of the comet to reveal its head and tail structure. These have then been stacked on the comet’s head to produce a smoother image of Lovejoy. The resultant photo reveals the comet’s motion against the stars because the stars appear to trail. This is a fairly advanced technique so well done to this young comet photographer: a very accomplished result.’ Pete Lawrence

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11 of the Best Astronomy Photographs to Inspire Awe and Wonder