Each year the Royal Observatory pores over thousands of entries to honor the very best in astronomical photography. This year the Observatory teamed with BBC Sky at Night Magazine and Flickr to evaluate some 1,700 submissions, representing photographers from over 50 different countries. The submissions are divided into four categories: “Earth and Space,” “Our Solar System,” “Deep Space,” and “Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year.” They also award two special prizes: “People and Space,” which is sort of self-explanatory; “Robotic Scope” for shots taken using one of those gizmos; and the “Sir Patrick Moore Prize for Best Newcomer,” named for the noteworthy English astronomer. The winning pictures will be on display in the Royal Observatory.
You can check out the winners and runners up for each category below.
Earth and Space
Winner: “Aurora over a Glacier Lagoon” by James Woodend, UK
You can see the winning “Earth and Space” picture up top. Here’s the description from the Royal Observatory website:
The pale-green glow of the aurora comes from oxygen atoms high in the atmosphere, energized by subatomic particles blasted out by the Sun. The particles are funnelled down towards the north and south poles by the Earth’s magnetic field, which is why these spectacular light shows are so often juxtaposed with the frozen scenery of the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Here the photographer has skilfully captured the delicate, icy colouration of land, water and sky.
Runner Up: “Wind Farm Star Trails” by Matt James, Australia
A monochrome composition with striking graphic qualities, this is a picture of movement. It shows the power of the wind together with the apparent motion of the sky: the rotation of the Earth turns the trails into a shower of stars. Like a moment of stillness captured in the otherwise shifting surroundings, one of the wind turbines has remained static. Its sharply defined blades stand out among the dandelion-like shapes of the others.
Our Solar System
Winner: “Ripples in a Pond” by Alexandra Hart, UK
The Sun’s boiling surface curves away beneath us in this evocative shot, which powerfully conveys the scale and violence of our parent star. The tortured region of solar activity on the left could swallow up the Earth several times with room to spare. The photographer’s comparison with stones dropped into a pond is an apt one: the Sun’s outer layers do indeed behave like a fluid, but one that is constantly twisted and warped by intense magnetic forces.
Runner Up: “Best of the Craters” by George Tarsoudis, Greece
The word ‘crater’ was first coined in the 17th century by the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei. He derived it from ‘krater’, the Ancient Greek term for a vessel used for mixing water and wine. Formed by meteorite impacts over billions of years, these bowl-shaped lunar features are typically named after scientists, artists and explorers. The central peak of the large crater featured here probably formed when the rocks of the crater floor rebounded immediately after it was formed.
Winner: “Horsehead Nebula (IC 434)” by Bill Snyder, USA
The Horsehead Nebula is one of the most-photographed objects in the night sky, but this astonishing image succeeds in showing it in a brand-new light. Rather than focusing solely on the black silhouette of the horsehead itself, the photographer draws the eye down to the creased and folded landscape of gas and dust at its base, and across to the glowing cavity surrounding a bright star. By pushing the compositional boundaries of astrophotography, this image expands our view and tells a new story about a familiar object.
Runner Up: “The Helix Nebula (NGC 7293)” by David Fitz-Henry, Australia
Looking like a giant eye peering across 700 light years of space, the Helix Nebula is one of the closest planetary nebulae to the Earth, and one of the best-studied. This highly accomplished image reveals delicate detail in the glowing gas that makes up the nebula, including the tadpole-like ‘cometary knots’ which seem to trail from the inner edge of the gaseous ring. The ‘head’ of each knot is around the size of our solar system.
Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year
Winner: “The Horsehead Nebula (IC 434)” by Shishir and Shashank Dholakia, USA, Aged 15
This is a superb image of the Horsehead Nebula. It shows clearly the well-known red glow that appears to come from behind the horsehead. This glow is produced by hydrogen gas that has been ionized by neighbouring stars. The image draws particular attention to the cloud of heavily concentrated dust within the horse’s head. This is silhouetted against the red glow because it blocks so much of the light that is trying to get through.
Runner Up: “New Year over Cypress Mountain” by Emmett Sparling, Canada, Aged 15
Looking closely at the light coming from each of the stars, we can see different colours, which are incredibly useful to the scientists that study them. The different coloured light can tell us about what stage of life stars are at: they could be young, hot blue stars or older red stars nearing the end of their life.
The Sir Patrick Moore Prize for Best Newcomer
Winner: “Coastal Stairways” by Chris Murphy, New Zealand
‘Deep time’ seems to be the subliminal message of this moody scene, with each layer of the foreground rocks recording thousands of years of geological history. Meanwhile, in the sky, time and distance are inextricably entwined, as the light from the stars takes decades, centuries or even millennia to reach us across the immense gulf of space.
People and Space
Winner: “Hybrid Solar Eclipse 2” by Eugen Kamenew, Germany
This rare example of a hybrid solar eclipse began at sunrise over the western Atlantic as an annular eclipse, in which the Moon does not entirely block the Sun, leaving a bright ring or annulus uncovered. As the Moon’s shadow swept eastwards across the ocean, the eclipse became total, with the whole of the Sun concealed from view. By the time the eclipse reached Kenya the Sun was once again emerging from behind the Moon, producing this spectacular crescent shape at sunset.
Runner Up: “Lost Souls” by Julie Fletcher, Australia
The zodiacal light seems to rise from the horizon like a pyramid, with the brilliant point of Venus at its apex. Made up of sunlight scattered and diffused by the tiny grains of dust that drift between the planets, this pale feature marks out the plane of the Solar System, the flat disc in which all of the planets orbit the Sun. The stillness of the heavens contrasts with the transience of the scene below, its shifting human figures reflected in the temporary waters of Kati Thanda–Lake Eyre.
Winner: “NGC 3718” by Mark Hanson, USA
Found in the constellation Ursa Major, NGC 3718 is known as a peculiar barred spiral galaxy. Gravitational interactions with its near neighbour NGC 3729 (the spiral galaxy below and to the left) are the likely reason for the galaxy’s significantly warped spiral arms, while a dark dust lane wraps around the centre.
You can see more of the year’s best astronomy photographs over on the Royal Observatory’s website.