This year’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year includes… a Stargate?

Sep 18, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

This year’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year includes… a Stargate?

Sep 18, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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The Royal Observatory Greenwich’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition always fascinates me. I wouldn’t even begin to know how to create most of the images I see winning each year. For real, how do you shoot a Stargate?

This year is the 15th annual competition, and the winners, runners-up, and highly commended are all pretty amazing. Some scenes include a view of the ground, while others leave our little planet very far behind!

Overall Winner

Andromeda, Unexpected by Marcel Drechsler, Xavier Strottner and Yann Sainty

A team of amateur astronomers led by Marcel Drechsler, Xavier Strottner and Yann Sainty made a surprising discovery a huge plasma arc next to the Andromeda Galaxy.
Scientists are now investigating the newly discovered giant in a transnational collaboration. It could be the largest such structure in the nearby environment in the Universe.

The Andromeda Galaxy is the closest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way. It is undoubtedly one of the most photographed deep-sky objects ever. The new discovery of such a large structure in the immediate vicinity of the galaxy was all the more surprising.

‘What does a discovery image look like? It is mostly a blurry black and white image that depicts an almost invisible faint dot or a spectrum that is incomprehensible to us. However, that was not the case this time. This astrophoto is as spectacular as it is valuable. It not only presents Andromeda in a new way, but also raises the quality of astrophotography to a new level.’ – László Francsics

Taken with a Takahashi FSQ-106EDX4 telescope, Sky-Watcher EQ6 Pro mount, ZWO ASI2600MM Pro camera, 382 mm f/3.6, multiple exposures between 1 and 600 seconds, 111 hours total exposure

Location: Near Nancy, France

Planets, Comets & Asteroids

Winner

Suspended in a Sunbeam by Tom Williams

A unique view of Venus using infrared or ultraviolet false colour. By going beyond the visible part of the spectrum, a myriad of fine detail within the upper atmosphere of the planet is revealed.

‘Venus can be easily found with the naked eye or photographed with a small telescope, as it is the planet with the largest angular diameter that can be seen from Earth. But not like this. Capturing these atmospheric details from the sunlit side of the planet when it is so far from Earth is a remarkable achievement.’ – László Francsics

Taken with a Sky-Watcher 400P (16”) GoTo Dobsonian Reflector telescope, Baader Bessel (U)BVRI and ZWO IR850 filters, ZWO ASI462MM (Early-Bird) camera, 8,750 mm f/21.5, 5,000 x 5.9-millisecond IR exposures (29.5-second total exposure), 7,500 x 13.9-millisecond UV exposures, (104.25-second total exposure): 133.75-second total exposure

Location: Trowbridge, Wiltshire, UK

Runner-Up

Jupiter Close to Opposition by Marco Lorenzi

An image of Jupiter 30 minutes after it crossed the meridian. The Great Red Spot and many details of the turbulent atmosphere, primarily composed of hydrogen and helium gas, are clearly visible, including several smaller storms.

‘Fifty years ago, NASA’s Pioneer 10 mission hurtled past Jupiter and returned the first close-up images of the gas giant. Astronomers would have been overjoyed to have captured something like this back then. It is not just beautiful but reveals wonderful cloud detail and a very impressive balance of colours across the disc, giving us a coherent view of the planet. Astonishing then, that this image was not produced in the depths of space, but right here on Earth. While Jupiter is bright enough to be seen with the naked eye as a small point of light in the night sky, planetary photography with this level of clarity is incredibly challenging. As the photographer notes, local conditions were good on the night, but it is entirely too modest to attribute their achievement to a favourable atmosphere.’ – Ed Bloomer

Taken with a Nauris Vates 21” telescope, Home-made horseshoe mount, Player One Saturn-M SQR (IMX533M) camera, 10,000 mm f/3.8 with Barlow 5 x lens at f/19, H-alpha: 360-minute exposure, L: 510-minute exposure, R: 90-minute exposure, B: 90-minute exposure

Location: Singapore

Highly Commended

Uranus with Umbriel, Ariel, Miranda, Oberon and Titania by Martin Lewis

Uranus is so distant that light from the Sun takes nearly three hours to reach it and makes it very hard to photograph. This photo was taken in optimum conditions, on a still night with no cloud cover, so the photographer was able to capture Uranus and its five brightest moons, from top to bottom, Titania, Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel and Oberon.

‘I absolutely love this photograph. It is incredibly hard to image Uranus, let alone with the moons, and I think it is beautiful. This image captures the imagination and gives us a deeper insight into the uranium system. What I really like is the composition – Uranus just off centre with the moons in a line from top to bottom. The clarity of the moons is breathtaking!’ – Sheila Kanani

Taken with a Homemade 444 mm Dobsonian Newtonian reflector telescope, Baader 685 nm IR filter, home-made Equatorial Tracking Platform, ZWO ASI290MM camera, 5.6 m f/12.7, Gain 40; Uranus: 125-millisecond exposures, best 20% of 9,000 frames; Moons: 125-millisecond exposures, best 21% of 1,800 frames

Location: St Albans, Hertfordshire, UK

Skyscapes

Winner

Grand Cosmic Fireworks by Angel An

Sprites are an extremely rare phenomenon of atmospheric luminescence that appear like fireworks. An took this photograph from the highest ridge of the Himalaya mountains.

‘This is not, as it might first appear, an enormous extra-terrestrial, but the lower tendrils of a sprite (red lightning)! This rarely seen electrical discharge occurs much higher in the atmosphere than normal lightning (and indeed, despite the name, is created by a different mechanism), giving the image an intriguingly misleading sense of scale. While the gradient of colours is beautiful by itself, impressively the image also reveals the delicate structure of the plasma. We really loved that the photographer didn’t capture the whole structure, which extends far beyond the top of the frame. It creates an unsettling, alien image that can’t help but draw your eye.’ – Ed Bloomer

Taken with a Sony ILCE-7S3 camera, 135 mm f/1.8, ISO 12800, 4-second exposure

Location: Lake Puma Yumco, Tibet, China

Runner-Up

Celestial Equator Above First World War Trench Memorial by Louis Leroux-Gere

Star trails above the preserved First World War trenches in Canadian National Vimy Memorial Park, Northern France. Taken over five hours, the camera captured the rotation of the sky, revealing the colourful stars.

‘In April 1917, Canadian and German troops fought and died on this ridge near Vimy in northern France. The Canadian Government later preserved the cratered battlefield as a war memorial. This haunting image contrasts the conflict-scarred landscape with the ethereal beauty of the stars. A line of trees divides the composition into two distinct halves. Above, pastel-coloured star trails trace smooth arcs across the sky. Below, a trench carves a twisted fissure through the dull green grassland. The result is a potent reminder of how human wars have disfigured the surface of our planet.’ – Katherine Gazzard

Taken with a Canon EOS 6D (Astro modified), Samyang XP 14 mm f/2.4 lens, 14 mm f/3.2, ISO 1000, 577 x 30-second exposures

Location: Vimy, Pas-de-Calais, Hauts de France, France

Highly Commended

Noctilucent Night by Peter Hoszang

Noctilucent clouds are rarely seen around the summer solstice in Hungary, when this photograph was taken. The reflection on the pond below creates a perfect symmetry.

‘There is a sense of calm and balance in this photo. Just like the location, the Great Plain, one of the flattest places in Europe, it exudes endless tranquillity. This tranquillity is captured by saline lakes, a few shadows and the beautiful celestial phenomenon of a summer night.’ – László Francsics

Taken with a Nikon D810A camera, 50 mm f/4, ISO 400, 6-second exposure

Location: Apajpuszta, Pest County, Hungary

Stars & Nebulae

Winner

New Class of Galactic Nebulae Around the Star YY Hya by Marcel Drechsler

A team of amateur astronomers, led by Marcel Drechsler from Germany and Xavier Strottner from France, were able to make an important contribution to the study of the evolution of binary star systems: on old images of sky surveys, they discovered a previously unknown galactic nebula. At its centre, a pair of stars surrounded by a common envelope was found. On over 100 nights, more than 360 hours of exposure time were collected. The result shows an ultra-deep stellar remnant that the team has baptised ‘the heart of the Hydra’.

‘This is an absolutely breathtaking image of the YY Hya star and its interstellar environment. Remarkably, the nebula was discovered during a search for previously unknown galactic emission nebulae. After more than 360 hours of exposure time the photographer revealed a gorgeous ultra-deep stellar remnant. Not only is this image truly captivating, but it also serves as a fantastic illustration of how amateurs and professional astronomers can come together and achieve great results through collaboration.’ – Yuri Beletsky

Taken with an ASA Newtonian 500 mm telescope, ASA DDM85 mount, FLI ProLine 16803 camera, 1,900 mm f/3.8, 890 x 1,200-second exposures, 672 x 300-second exposures and 15 x 1,800-second exposures

Location: Ovalle, Chile

Runner-Up

LDN 1448 et al. by Anthony Quintile

A photograph of LDN 1448, which is close to the more spectacular and more often photographed NGC 1333. Quintile chose to photograph the lesser-known molecular cloud to explore the fascinating dust in this part of the sky.

‘This is a very impressive deep image of LDN 1448 molecular cloud – a region of the interstellar medium where gas and dust are concentrated, leading to the formation of new stars. The image captures all the beauty of the dust’s filamentary structures as well as colourful reflection nebulae. LDN 1448 is a subject of scientific study due to its role in the process of star formation. Capturing photos of such objects allows astrophotographers to contribute to scientific research by providing high-resolution images that can be used for scientific analysis.’ – Yuri Beletsky

Taken with a Sky-Watcher Quattro 250P telescope, Losmandy G11 Gemini 2 mount, ZWO ASI2600MC Pro camera, Starizona Nexus 0.75 x reducer/corrector, 750 mm f/3, Gain 100, 1,022 x 120-second exposures

Location: Flagstaff, Arizona, USA

Highly Commended

The Dark Wolf – Fenrir by James Baguley

This image shows a dark, thick molecular cloud in the form of a wolf, known as the Wolf Nebula or Fenrir Nebula. Baguley chose a starless image to emphasise the beautiful red background, which is a dense backdrop of hydrogen gas.

‘The photographer has certainly embraced the idea of the Dark Wolf. He has seen this shape and enhanced it to create a scary image of the Fenrir Nebula. The deep red and strength of the black create an amazing composition. Fenrir is a wolf from Norse mythology. It is a fantastic image that merits its highly commended position in a very tough category in the competition.’ – Alan Sparrow

Taken with a Sidereal Trading 10” f/4 Newtonian telescope, Optolong L-eXtreme filter, iOptron CEM60EC mount, ZWO 2600MC Pro camera, 1,000 mm f/4, 165 x 300-second exposures, 13 hours 24 minutes total exposure

Location: Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

The Sir Patrick Moore Prize for Best Newcomer

Winner

Sh2-132: Blinded by the Light by Aaron Wilhelm

The Sh2-132 complex lies near the border of the Cepheus and Lacerta constellations and contains multiple deep sky structures. The photograph includes 70 hours of data, the rich interplay of all the gasses reveals something different each time you look at it.

‘The perseverance and stamina of astrophotographers is what makes us truly stand out in the photography field. Here is an image that really brings home the application required, especially when focusing on the deep sky. This photographer has put in the hours and studied their craft to create a beautiful image of this field of nebulosity. With subtle but varying colours across the whole palette, the dark twisting lanes of dust are resolved in exquisite detail and the stars are perfectly round with no hint of trailing. All this from a newcomer to the field. It shows that, even at the early stages of astrophotography, there are no limits to what we can achieve.’ – Steve Marsh

Taken with a William Optics Fluorostar132 mm telescope, Chroma 3 nm/50 mm SII/H-alpha/OIII filters, Astro-Physics Mach2GTO mount, ZWO ASI6200MM Pro camera, 910 mm f/6.9, SII: 87 x 900-second exposures; H-alpha: 92 x 900-second exposures; OIII: 87 x 900-second exposures, 66 hours and 30 minutes total exposure

Location: Santa Monica, California, USA

Young

Winner

The Running Chicken Nebula by Runwei Xu and Binyu Wang

The Running Chicken Nebula, IC2944, is located in the constellation of Centaurus, 6,000 light years away from the Earth. Embedded in the nebula’s glowing gas the star cluster Collinder 249 is visible.

‘This is a strikingly beautiful picture of the Running Chicken Nebula (IC2944). The photographers have managed to capture the vibrant colours of the nebula as well as the embedded star cluster.
This cluster contains several hot, young stars whose intense radiation causes the surrounding nebula to glow. The interaction between the stellar winds from these stars and the denser pockets of material in the nebula leads to the creation of interesting features, such as Thackeray’s globules, which are potential sites of future star formation.’ – Yuri Beletsky

Taken with an ASA N20 f/3.8 Newtonian telescope, ASA DDM85 mount, FLI Proline 16803 camera, 1,900 mm f/3.8, 5.5 hours total exposure

Location: El Sauce Observatory, Río Hurtado, Chile

Runner-Up

Blue Spirit Drifting in the Clouds by Haocheng Li and Runwei Xu

Pleiades is an open star cluster lit by the brightest stars, which illuminate the surrounding nebula giving it an attractive blue hue. The cluster is also known as the Seven Sisters, because many people can see seven stars. But as astrophotography reveals, there are actually over 1,000.

‘This image shows us how to photograph the Pleiades Cluster and the great reflection nebulae around it. It gives spectacular detail and deep insight into the dusty world around these famous stars, resulting in a creatively framed image.’ – László Francsics

Taken with a Sky Rover 102APO telescope, Optolong LRGB filter, NEQ6 mount, ZWO ASI294MM camera, 714 mm f/7, ISO 100, multiple 300-second exposures, 9 hours total exposure

Location: Shangri-la City, Yunnan, China

Highly Commended

Lunar Occultation of Mars by Joshua Harwood-White

The lunar occultation of Mars was one of the most interesting celestial events of 2022. Here, an iPhone was used with a Celestron Astromaster 102az Refractor Telescope to capture the moment just before the Moon blocked our view of Mars.

‘This image showcases the capabilities of modern technology. Just a smartphone and modest telescope have been used to beautifully capture a fantastic celestial showcase from 2022. Often in astrophotography, the key to success is being able to react quickly to an event. With occultations this is even more important as they happen fast and require timing and preparation. In addition, the processing and presentation of the image is fantastic and it really feels like a moment snapped in time.’ – Steve Marsh

Taken with a Celestron Astromaster 102AZ Refractor telescope, 102 mm Achromatic lens, Manual Alt Azimuth mount, Apple iPhone SE 2nd Generation, 12 mp wide camera, 660 mm f/1.8, ISO 80, 1/15-second exposure

Location: Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey, UK

Highly Commended

Roses Blooming in the Dark: NGC 2337 by Yanhao Mo

The Rosette Nebula, NGC 2337, is a large nebula and has a diameter of ~130 light years. This image has been achieved using narrowband-filter processing. For the star point LRGB filters have been used.

‘The Rosette Nebula is a popular target for deep-space astrophotographers, but it is not an easy task to achieve an image like this. Gathering sufficient light from this rather dim object roughly 5,000 light years away is only one part of the work. The narrow range of frequencies collected through the photographer’s filter have to be combined carefully to create something pleasing to the eye. This particular image is a great example of the Rosette Nebula as it is neither too gaudy, nor too muted. It preserves lovely details in the fine nebulous structure, but also a bright starfield that doesn’t overwhelm the piece. An impressively balanced composition.’ -Ed Bloomer

Taken with a Sky-Watcher 150/750 telescope, Meyon MPCC + Optolong LRGB & SII, H-alpha and OII filters, Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro mount, QHY-268M camera, 750 mm f/5, Gain 26, 8 x 7-hour exposures, 600 seconds per LRGB filter

Location: Xinbei District, Changzhou City, Jiangsu Province, China

Highly Commended

Moon at Nightfall by Haohan Sun

A photograph of a moonrise over the Xinghai Bay Bridge in Dalian. Atmospheric extinction alters the hue and brightness of the Moon when it is low on the horizon. In this photo, you can see the Moon appears brighter and less red as it rises in the sky.

‘The composition of this photograph is superb, capturing the striking contrast between urban construction and the ineffable mystery of the natural world: the imposing mist, the moody sea and the motion of the Moon. While the bridge spans the horizon, the Moon also seems to stand as a bridge, or perhaps stepping stones, into the sky. I particularly liked the progression of colours on the rising Moon, from a molten red to a more familiar rocky silver, reminding us of the profound connection between human industry and the cosmos, and yet the vast expanse that separates them. A great shot from our young astronomy photographer!’ – Imad Ahmed

Moon: Canon 24-105mm camera, 5 x ISO 1600, 6 x SO3200, 2 x 1/100-second exposures, 3 x 1/50-second exposures, 6 x 1/30-second exposures; Foreground: Canon EOS 6D Mark II camera, 150 mm f/4, ISO 1600, 40 x 1/125-second exposures

Location: Dalian, Liaoning, China

Annie Maunder Prize for Image Innovation

Winner

Black Echo by John White

Taking audio source material from NASA’s Chandra Sonification Project, White visually captured the sound of the black hole at the centre of the Perseus Galaxy.

The audio was played through a speaker onto which White attached a petri dish, blacked out at the bottom and then filled with about 3 mm of water. Using a macro lens and halo light in a dark room, White experimented with the audio and volumes to explore the various patterns made in the liquid.

‘Most of the information in the Universe is imperceptible to human senses (or delivered by mechanisms that would annihilate an observer), yet most modern astronomical developments are about capturing such information. Interpreting and presenting that information is vital as well. Here, we are shown an interesting and playful visualisation of astronomical data that we could not ‘see’ by ourselves nor ‘hear’. This is an image of a sound generated by a source that is invisible. Stark, beautiful, rather weird, and certainly innovative!’ – Ed Bloomer

Original data from the NASA Chandra X-Ray Observatory, May 2022

An overall stunning set of images. I don’t know about you, but I could sit and look at images like this all day long! There were a few from the recent shortlist that I don’t see on the winners list and really expected them to be. Oh well, better luck next year!

Which is your favourite?

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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