Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2020

Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2020
”The Prison of Technology” by People and Space winner Rafael Schmall (Hungary)

The Royal Observatory Greenwich launched its first Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition in 2009, the International Year of Astronomy. There were a few hundred entries in four categories. In 2020, sponsored by Insight Investment, there were over 5000 entries from seventy countries in eleven categories.

But in 2020 one aspect of the competition shrank. The annual awards ceremony and opening of the exhibition in Greenwich had to be cancelled. Observatory outreach astronomer Emily Drabek-Maunder and comedian and amateur astronomer John Culshaw – suitably distanced – presented the winners online.

And the winner . . .
Nicolas Lefaudeux (France) was named Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2020 for his entry in the Galaxies category, Andromeda Galaxy at Arm's Length. Andromeda is 2.5 million light years away, but is also our nearest large neighbor. To get the effect of closeness, Lefaudeux created a device that held the camera at an angle to the telescope. One of the judges said that
our closest neighbouring galaxy can feel so out of reach, to create a photograph that gives us the impression that it is just within our reach is truly magical.
A unique image, but didn't inspire me. What do you think?

The Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year
The Young Competition winner, the impressive Alice Fock Hang (France) was 10 years old when she photographed The Four Planets and the Moon from Réunion island. One of the judges described it as
A vast expanse of the sky captured in exquisite detail and with a range of different objects included. The contrast balance on this image is right in the sweet spot and it would be a fantastic image from any age group.
I've chosen half a dozen of my favorites.

Skyscapes, Aurorae, People and Space
I would love to see nacreous clouds. They're a rare phenomenon occurring in winter at high latitudes. The Skyscapes winner Thomas Kast (Germany) was fortunate to see and to photograph them for his entry Painting the Sky. I could easily imagine a celestial artist at work, mixing a vivid palette and applying the color with a cosmic brush.

The Green Lady by Nicholas Roemmelt (Germnay) was the winner in the Aurora category. One of the judges felt “as though it was taken on the border of the afterlife”. I've seen some breathtaking aurorae in Norway, though nothing quite like this. It's amazing that particles from the Sun interacting with molecules in our upper atmosphere can produce such exquisite sights. It's spectacular and sublime.

People and Space always provides treats. It can produce images that are beautiful and challenging like this year's winner, The Prison of Technology by Rafael Schmall (Hungary). You can see it in the header image. The star is Albireo which is the tip of the beak of the constellation Cygnus the swan. The lines are satellite trails and they seem to imprison Albireo. One judge called the picture both “aesthetically pleasing” and “shocking”. Another wondered whether astronomy would survive megaconstellations of satellites.

But what caught my attention in People and Space was the runner-up by Tian Li (China), Observe the Heart of the Galaxy. We see the photographer climbing the radio telescope against the background of magnificent nebulae. It's awe-inspiring and dramatic as well as meeting a difficult technical challenge.

From Our Moon to Stars and Nebulae
The runner-up in Our Moon was Ethan Roberts (UK) for a splendid Partial Lunar Eclipse with Clouds. I've seen many lunar eclipse photos, but found this one unusual and compelling. We see the sunlit part of the Moon as well as the part in the Earth's shadow. Thin cloud gives it extra color and a sense of mystery.

A judge said of the Stars and Nebulae Winner, that
this astonishing image conjures up these pictures that also represent the first moments of the Universe, before stars were formed.
A good description, though Peter Ward (Australia) had something else in mind in his image Cosmic Inferno. It's the bright southern sky nebula NGC 3576 discovered by John Herschel nearly two centuries ago. Ward used software to remove the stars from the photo and mapped it into a false colour palette. It was to reflect the terrifying images of the bushfires in Australia last year that burned over 46 million acres and destroyed thousands of homes and buildings.

See the exhibition
The exhibition runs from October 23 2020 - August 8 2021, but most of us will only be able to see it online. Click here for access links.

You Should Also Read:
Royal Observatory Greenwich
Lunar Eclipses
Andromeda Galaxy (M31) – Fascinating Facts

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