The Hubble Space Telescope has captivated people around the world with its beautiful images, but there are many people photographing the sky from the ground, sometimes in their own back yards. The Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2010 competition showcased some of their work at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, a historic and beautiful venue for such an exhibition.
The pictures taken by the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2010 winners and finalists were put on public view in September 2010 and were there until the end of February 2011. They were an added treat for visitors, but for people living in the southeast of England or planning a visit to London, the Royal Observatory is well worth a visit at any time.
Of course, most people aren't able to visit Greenwich. The Royal Observatory knows this, so the exhibition was also put online where you can still see it.
With over four hundred entries from around the world, it was a major task even to choose the finalists. People are now so used to seeing technical excellence that the judges are looking out also for artistry and something of the individual viewpoint of the photographer. They are expecting what's sometimes called the "wow factor" because of the way it grabs your attention.
The overall winner was Tom Lowe's “Blazing Bristlecone". In the foreground is a bristlecone pine, one of the oldest living species on Earth. In the sky, the stars and dust at the center of the Milky Way seem to rise like fire and smoke from the California landscape. A bristlecone can live up to 5000 years, but the starlight in the picture has taken more than five times that long to reach us.
A picture that I particularly liked wasn't actually the winner in its category, but I found "A Crescent Venus" strikingly beautiful in its simplicity, a sliver of a crescent against a blue sky. Since the orbit of Venus is inside our own orbit of the Sun, it has phases like the Moon does.
The Deep Space category had the most spectacular images. The winner was Rogelio Bernal Andreo's "Orion Deep Wide Field". The three belt stars of the constellation Orion appear on one side of the composition and the rest is the delicate tracery of the nebula partly illuminated by nearby stars.
The 2010 competition also had a new category called "People and Space." As I went through the exhibition, I kept having new favorites, but then I saw Steven Christenson's "Photon Worshippers". That was it. This one had the "wow factor" several times over. Taken at Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur, California, where there are only a few days in the year when the setting Sun shines through the hole in the rock formation.
The work of the finalists for the Young Astronomy Photographer is very impressive. Fourteen-year-old Dhruv Arvind Paranjpye's "A Perfect Circle" shows an annular solar eclipse. The Moon's disk doesn't quite cover the Sun, leaving a ring of sunlight around it. It is quite startling to see the perfect circle amidst the dark clouds.