Once again, images of the glories of the heavens came to Greenwich. Photographers of all ages had used skill and imagination to show the connections between the Earth and the sky, and to capture our neighbor planets, visiting comets, nebulae, and distant galaxies. Nearly four thousand entries came from over ninety countries. Every continent, including Antarctica, was represented.
With 31 awards in 11 categories, there's no room here to comment on them all, so I've chosen some of my favorites. All the winners feature online and in an exhibition at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.
Stars and Nebulae
The overall winner this year was also the winner of the Stars and Nebulae category, Artem Mironov (Russia), for his photo The Rho Ophiuchi Clouds.
The Rho Ophiuchi star-forming nebula is one of the nearest to us, though it's still over 400 light years away. The dark areas are clouds so dense that they block the starlight behind them. The blue region is reflecting the light of a nearby bright star, and the red shows where hot stars are energizing hydrogen, causing it to glow red. One of the judges noted the “pin-sharp details of individual stars and textures”, and felt that in the overall composition “the deep silvery blue and salmon pink shades seem to be reaching towards each other, almost like Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’."
I was quite taken with the runner-up in this category. Compared to the grand nebula, it's a deceptively simple picture of multicolored concentric circles. However Andras Papp (Hungary) needed considerable technical expertise, ingenuity and planning to make this picture of the star trails without going to the Arctic Circle. He stacked images taken over a period of time in order to capture the full circle of star movement as Earth turned through One Stellar Day.
My favorite atmospheric phenomenon is the aurora (northern or southern lights). Aurorae occur when energetic particles from the Sun interact with oxygen or nitrogen in the Earth's upper atmosphere.
The winning image in the Aurorae category was described as “unusual and a brave entry because it doesn't actually show a lot of auroral detail.” But having myself seen a number of disappointing aurora-behind-clouds displays, I love auroral detail like that of In Autumn Dance by runner-up Kamil Nureev (Russia).
In the Skyscapes category I was also smitten with Nacreous Clouds by Bartlomiej Jurecki (Poland). Very occasionally, these clouds form at sunset in the stratosphere of the polar regions. When the Sun is just below the horizon it illuminates them from below. Being made of very small particles, they diffract sunlight in a dramatic way.
I liked the winning photograph of Our Moon with its hyper color saturation, but it wasn't the one that made me think “Wow!” That was Sean Goebel's (USA) highly commended Mauna Kea Moonset. In case you're wondering how the Moon gets so big in Hawaii, this effect was achieved by taking the photo from a good distance from the mountain.
The Skyscapes category is for “landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes in which the night sky or twilight sky is a prominent feature.”
One of the judges wrote of the winner, Passage to the Milky Way, “I love the dystopian feel of this picture, the silkily leaden Milky Way framed by brutalist architecture, like a scene from a J.G. Ballard novel.” I can't say that I had that reaction. My preference was for the runner-up Star Track in Kawakarpo by Zhong Wu (China), that took us to the beautiful Meili Snow Mountains. The star trails and the Sun's softly delicate silvery glow over the mountain tops seem to emphasize the mountain's status as one of Tibetan Buddhism's most sacred places.
As a fan of snowy mountains – but not of brutalist architecture – I was also moved by a highly commended photo in the Young Competition. Fabian Dalpiaz (Italy) aged 14, was up in place well before the crack of dawn to take the pictures which he stitched together to make Milky Way Above Alpe Di Siusi/Dolomites.
People and Space
The category People and Space is straightforward. It's for images that link people or human activity with the night sky. The winner, Wanderer in Patagonia by Yuri Zvezdny (Russia), shows the Milky Way spread across the sky over a rocky glacier. A small human stands in softy lit cave. Zvezdny says,
Alone in the darkness, I made my way over huge rocks with the mountain river roaring under my feet and the glacier rumbling nearby. This place lives and breathes, and the forces that live here inspire awe.The exquisite sky and rugged backdrop will take your breath away.
If you click on “Post your thoughts” below the article, it will take you to the Astronomy Forum with more information on the photographs and a link to the online exhibition.