The fourth annual Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition has received a record number of entries. Back-garden amateurs and professional photographers alike have captured spectacular images such as huge eruptions shooting from the Sun’s surface, the dazzling green and red lights of the aurora borealis, and spectacular clouds of colourful dust in which new stars are forming.
The winners of the competition’s four categories and three special prizes will be announced on 19 September and an exhibition of all the winning images opens the following day on 20 September at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. The competition’s judges include The Sky at Night’s Sir Patrick Moore, acclaimed photographer Dan Holdsworth and the ROG’s Public Astronomer Dr. Marek Kukula.
We will publish a picture gallery of the winners as soon as they are annnounced. Here is a selection of the entries that have been received.
Sky away from the Lights by Tunç Tezel (Turkey). A view from the Uludag National Park in Turkey. The Milky Way stretches across the sky above the manmade pockets of hazy lights from the towns and villages below.
Double Arch with a Perseid Meteor and the Milky Way by Thomas O’Brien (USA). A meteor is captured streaking across the sky above Arches National Park, Utah, during the annual Perseid meteor shower. The Perseids is one of the most prolific showers, often with around 80 meteors an hour during its peak. Nevertheless, meteors are hard to catch on camera. The photographer has used an artificial light source to illuminate and emphasise the dramatic rock formations.
Sky Show by Tommy Eliassen (Norway). The dazzling Aurora Borealis over Høgtuva Mountain in Norway. The Earth’s magnetic field funnels particles from the Solar Wind down over the planet’s polar regions. More than 80 kilometres above the ground, these particles collide with atoms and molecules of gas in our atmosphere, causing them to glow in the characteristic colours of green and pale red for oxygen and crimson for nitrogen.
IC 1396 – Elephant-Trunk Nebula by Bill Snyder (USA). This picture shows the column of dust known as the ‘Elephant’s Trunk’ in the constellation of Cepheus. Deep within the dense clumps of dust and gas that make up the ‘trunk’ new stars are currently forming.
Full Moon setting behind the Alps by Stefano De Rosa (Italy). This picture captures the full Moon setting behind the Alps and the Sacra di San Michele, a religious complex situated 1000 metres up on Mount Pirchiriano in northern Italy. Human, geological and astronomical timescales are juxtaposed in this atmospheric photograph. The building in the foreground may be old by our standards, but the mountains in which it stands formed millions of years ago. Behind them, the setting Moon has remained relatively unchanged for billions years.
116 megapixel Moon Mosaic by David Campbell (UK). A multi-image mosaic of the Moon, which is our nearest neighbour in space and therefore appears larger in our sky than any other astronomical object apart from the Sun. Even a telescope of quite modest magnification will only show a part of the Moon’s surface at one time, meaning that multi-image mosaics such as this are needed to show large areas of its surface.
Active Sol by Paul Haese (Australia). This image shows solar activity including a huge solar prominence. 2012 saw the Sun moving towards the peak of its eleven year-cycle of activity following an unusually long and quiet lull. Sunspots, explosive flares and prominences are much more common than in previous years.
Cygnus by JP Metsävainio (Finland). This mosaic image reveals a huge swathe of the sky in the constellation of Cygnus. Huge clouds of colourful glowing gas and lanes of dark dust stretch across the field of view. Their light is too faint to register with the human eye, but long exposure times and special filters allow us to appreciate their grandeur and scale.
Stargazers by Jessica Caterson (UK), aged 15. This is a self-portrait of the photographer (far right) with her friends at a caravan site in the Gower Peninsular, Wales. Several short exposures were aligned and combined to capture the crisp stars and dark sky, while minimising trailing due to the Earth’s rotation; the visible progress of the aeroplane in the upper right reveals this process. Adding the final frame of the backlit friends gives context to the scene.