Review: Astronomy Photographer of the Year at The Royal Observatory

By Kat Hopps | 24 September 2012
An image of a cosmic galaxy photographed in great detail
Robert Franke (USA), The Witch's Broom. Part of the Veil Nebula, the Broom is the glowing debris from a supernova explosion thousands of years ago. Franke used narrowband filters to increase the detail in an image which was Highly Commended in the Deep Space category at the Astronomy Photographer of the Year show in Greenwich© Robert Franke
Exhibition Review: Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2012, The Royal Observatory Greenwich, London, until February 17 2013

Although the setting may be modest – just one small room at the Royal Observatory - the images here are not. Surely only a jaded soul could fail to be impressed by 2012’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year; the exhibition showcases award-winning astronomy pictures, shot by amateur and professional photographers across the globe, with truly spectacular results.

For the fourth annual competition, entrants entered across categories including Earth and Space, Our Solar System, Deep Space and Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year. Special prizes were awarded for People in Space, Best Newcomer and Robotic Scope Image of the Year. The variety in subject matter has enabled all different manner of pictures to be captured.

An image showing the silhouette of a man looking at a glowing cosmic galaxy
Laurent Laveder (France), Facing Venus-Jupiter Close Conjunction. This picture was taken on the wet sand at low tide on the beach at Tréguennec in North West France and shows the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. Their apparent closeness was an optical illusion – Jupiter was in fact millions of kilometres further away than Venus. The photographer is pictured in the lower right corner of the frame© Laurent Laveder
Overall winner Martin Pugh has depicted the Whirlpool Galaxy M51 in astonishing detail, with its spiral arms extending in vivid pink and blues that reveal a distant galaxy beyond being gradually torn apart. However, his work is in good company; the standard across the board is extremely high.

A year of cosmic wonders across our skies, combined with advances in digital equipment, has enabled this year’s crop of photographers to snap highlights such as the transit of Venus across the sun from completely different angles. Paul Haese’s effort shows a luminous sun in minute detail, with filaments, sunspots and prominences on show.

A tiny, black dot at the top of the orange ball signifies Venus’ passing and celebrates the scale and ferocity of our nearest star. In contrast, UK resident Chris Warren captures the same event through a cloudy, early-morning sky, producing a darkly atmospheric observation.

Entries in the Earth and Space category dazzle by juxtaposing dramatic landscapes and colours with beautiful stars and patterns in the night skies. Green World, by Arild Heitmann, is a particularly stunning image.A path of swirling green lights wisp across a snow covered landscape encased by dark, foreboding trees; the lights come from energised oxygen atoms high in the atmosphere above the Nordland Fylke in Norway.

An image of a cosmic galaxy in dark red, light blue, yellow, earth colours and white
Bill Snyder, Elephant-Trunk Nebula. The Trunk is a column of dust in the constellation of Cepheus, with new stars forming within the sections of dust and gas it is comprised of© Bill Snyder
Equally breathtaking is the image of Orion, Taurus and the Pleiades against a frozen landscape backdrop that won Masahiro Miyasaka the winning image for this category, plus a unique image of the Milky Way from Luc Perrot.

In other categories, Lóránd Fényes impresses with Elephant's Trunk, a skilful shot in which the trunk appears to uncoil from the dusty nebula towards the right of the image. Steven Christensoael has depicted the vulnerability of man with his shot of two hikers, tiny in size and lost in a pitch black forest in Yosemite National Park under the immense starlit sky.

And young photographers show that age is no barrier to talent with some excellent lunar photography on display, highlighting every crater and smooth maria (lunar “seas”) of the moon.

The images may be widely available on the internet, but it’s definitely worth seeing this exhibition in person for the excellent quality of the photographs and the pleasure of seeing them all housed together under one roof.

The accompanying video that plays in the background also provides an interesting story behind each picture and its photographer, explaining how they got their perfect shot.

Follow Kat Hopps on Twitter @kathopps.

More pictures:

An image of a galaxy glowing across a city and mountains illuminated by lights
Tunç Tezel (Turkey), Sky Away From the Lights. Dark mountain peaks frame the distant glow of towns and villages and the majestic star fields of The Milky Way. Making the most of an August night, the photographer got this shot in the Uludag National Park near his hometown of Bursa, Turkey© Tunç Tezel
A photo of a light white full moon on a light blue background framed on black card
Laurent V Joli-Coeur (Canada), Daytime Lunar Mosaic. This 15-year-old photographer has knitted together several high resolution images of the Moon in the daytime sky to form a colourful mosaic featuring the lunar seas and highlands dotted with craters© Laurent V Joli-Coeur
An extremely detailed image of the galaxy featuring millions of tiny white stars and red
Lóránd Fényes (Hungary), Elephant's Trunk with Ananas. The Elephant’s Trunk seems to uncoil from the dusty nebula on the right of the image. Organisers praised the skill and painstaking attention to detail of the shot by a newcomer to astrophotography© Lóránd Fényes
A photo of a snow-covered land illuminated by a light green sky with thin trees visible
Arild Heitmann (Norway), Green World. The aurora borealis traces the shifting patterns of the Earth's magnetic field, creating a spectacular midwinter show in Nordland Fylke, Norway. Here's the science: the green light in this image comes from oxygen atoms high in the atmosphere, energised by subatomic particles from the Solar Wind© Arild Heitmann
A photo of six full planets in two lines of three against a black background
Damian Peach (UK), Mars in 2012. This sequence of photographs, taken in March 2012, uses the rotation of Mars to build up a complete view of the planet's surface. It shows the gleaming north polar cap of frozen water and carbon dioxide, the red equatorial deserts and the darker southern highlands© Damian Peach
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