The Royal Observatory Greenwich has just unveiled the winners of the coveted awards for astronomical photographer of the year 2020. And this year’s grand prize went to a beautiful photograph of the Andromeda galaxy that makes it look like you can really reach out and touch it.
Now in its twelfth year, the competition has received over 5,000 entries from six continents for this year’s competition. Images were submitted for one of 9 categories, including Galaxies, Aurorae, Our Moon, People and Space, and Young Photographer of the Year, and a total of 11 images were awarded. There are 9 category winners, one overall winner selected from the categories and two special prices for “best newcomer” and “innovation in imaging”.
The winner of the Galaxies category, overall winner and the title of astronomical photographer of the year 2020 went to Frenchman Nicolas Lefaudeux for his stunning photograph entitled Andromeda Galaxy at arm’s length?:
Caption: Have you ever dreamed of touching a galaxy? This version of the Andromeda Galaxy appears to be an arm’s length away in clouds of stars. Unfortunately, this is just an illusion, as the galaxy is still 2 million light years away. To achieve the tilt-shift effect, the photographer 3D printed a part to keep the camera tilted to the telescope focus. The blur created by the blurring at the edges of the sensor gives this illusion of proximity to Andromeda.
Equipment and settings: Sky-Watcher Black Diamond 100mm f / 9 apochromatic refractor telescope, iOptron iEQ30 mount, Sony a7S camera (modified), ISO 2000, total exposure 2 hours and 30 minutes
According to the Observatory, the judges were “fascinated by the majestic image of Lefadeux”.
“For most of us, our closest neighbor galaxy, Andromeda, can also feel so distant and out of reach,” says contest judge Ed Robinson. “However, creating a photograph that gives us the impression that it is only within our physical reach is truly magical, and somehow appropriate as we adapt after such socially distant times.”
In addition to bragging rights, Lefadeux will receive £ 10,000 (~ $ 12,800) for his commitment, while Young Photographer of the Year and other category winners will walk away with £ 1,500 (~ $ 1,920), and Special Prize winners will receive £ 750 each (~ $ 960).
Scroll down to see the winners of each of the categories and the two special prizes. If you’ve been waiting for an excuse to escape the Earth, 2020 for a while this morning, this is your chance.
Young astronomy photographer of the year
Photographer: Alice Fock Hang (Reunion), Age 11
Title: The four planets and the moon
Caption: Photographing a planetary alignment requires rigor and patience but also a lot of luck. That evening, despite having prepared everything for a week, the photographer encountered clouds. The magic began after sunset, where the setting of the moon, Venus, Mercury, the star Antares, Jupiter and Saturn could be seen over the Indian Ocean. Looking at the sky map, the photographer could see that Pluto was also there above Saturn but invisible in my image. Also note the presence of Alpha Centuari to the left of the image as well as our huge galaxy, the Milky Way.
Equipment and settings: Nikon D610 camera, 35mm f / 3.2 lens, ISO 3200, exposures 18 x 13 seconds
Photographer: Nicholas Roemmelt (Germany)
Title: The Green Lady
Caption: The photographer had heard many stories about the “lady in green”. Although he has had the opportunity to photograph the Northern Lights many times, he had never seen the “green lady” before. During a trip to Norway, she unexpectedly appeared in her magical green clothes making the entire sky burn with green, blue and pink.
Equipment and settings: Canon EOS R camera, 14mm f / 1.8 lens, ISO 6400, 4 x 1.6 second exposures.
Photographer: Alain Paillou (France)
Title: Tycho crater region with colors
Caption: Tycho Crater is one of the most famous craters on the Moon. This massive impact left very impressive scars on the Moon’s surface. With the colors of the soil, Tycho is even more impressive. This image combines a session with a black and white camera, to capture detail and sharpness, and a session with a color camera, to capture the colors of the ground. These colors come mainly from metal oxides in small glass spheres and can provide useful information on the geology and history of the Moon. Blue shows a high concentration of titanium oxide and red shows a high concentration of iron oxide. This image reveals the incredible beauty and complexity of our natural satellite.
Equipment and settings: Ceslestron C9.25 telescope at f / 10 and f / 6.3, Orion Sirius EQ-G mount, ZWO ASI178MM and ASI178MC cameras, multiple exposures of 15 milliseconds
Photographer: Alexandra Hart (UK)
Title: Liquid Sunshine
Caption: The solar minimum can be seen as a quiet sun and considered opaque to white light, but if you look closely at the small-scale structure, the surface is animated by motion. This surface is about 100 kilometers thick and circulates the boiling motion of these convection cells, which lasts from 15 to 20 minutes. They are about 1,000 kilometers in size and create a beautiful “crazy pavement” structure for our enjoyment.
Equipment and settings: Celestron C11 XLT f / 50 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, Baader Solar Continuum filter with AstroSolar ND3.8 film, Sky-Watcher EQ6 Pro mount, ZWO-ASI174MM camera, 8,431 millisecond exposure
People and space
Photographer: Rafael Schmall (Hungary)
Title: The prison of technology
Caption: The star in the center of the image is the double star Albireo, surrounded by the trails of moving satellites. How many more could there be when we get to next year’s competition? There could be thousands of points moving in the sky. To create astrophotography, photographers must carefully plan where to place the telescope, and this will be more difficult in the future with more satellites on the road.
Equipment and settings: Sky-Watcher Quattro 200/800 astrograph telescope (modified) at f / 4, Sky-Watcher EQ6-Pro GOTO mount, Canon EOS 6D camera, ISO 1600, exposures 5 x 150 seconds
Planets, comets and asteroids
Photographer: Łukasz Sujka (Poland)
Title: Space Between US …
Caption: This image shows the very close alignment of the Moon and Jupiter that occurred on October 31, 2019. In the full resolution image, you will see that three of Jupiter’s moons are also visible. This small project is a big challenge that requires a lot of luck and good visibility conditions. Capturing this phenomenon on such a large scale was quite challenging in data acquisition as Jupiter and the Moon crossed the sky fairly quickly. It happened at an altitude just 9 degrees above the horizon. I wanted to show the huge void and the size of the space, which is why there is not much “nothing” between the two main parts of the image.
Equipment and settings: 10 ″ f / 4.8 Sky-Watcher Newton telescope, Baader MPCC coma corrector filter, Sky Watcher NEQ-6 mount, ZWO ASI178 MM-C camera, 300 x 10 millisecond exposures per channel
Photographer: Thomas Kast (Germany)
Title: Painting the sky
Caption: The photographer was looking for clear skies in Finnish Lapland to capture the beauty of a polar night and couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw what he was waiting for behind the clouds. Polar stratospheric clouds are something the photographer has been looking for for many years and until that day he had only seen in photographs. He took his camera to a frozen river to get a good view and started taking pictures. The clouds slowly changed shape and colors. It was like watching someone paint, especially when the sun was lower: it was starting to turn a darker orange and the pink hues got stronger.
Equipment and settings: Nikon D850 camera, 120mm f / 16 lens, ISO 64, 1/40 second exposure
Stars and nebulae
Photographer: Peter Ward (Australia)
Title: Cosmic Inferno
Caption: NGC 3576 is a well-known nebula in the southern skies, but shown here without stars. The software only reveals the nebula, which has been mapped to a false color palette. The scene takes on the appearance of a vortex of celestial fire. The image is intended to reflect media images taken in Australia during 2019 and 2020, where massive bushfires wreaked havoc on native forests and claimed over 12 million acres of land. It shows that nature can act on a massive scale and acts as a strong warning that our planet needs to be fed.
Equipment and settings: Alluna Optics RC-16 f / 8 telescope, 5nm Ha filter, Paramount ME II mount, SBIG STX-16803 camera, 32 x 10 minute exposures
Sir Patrick Moore Award for Best Newcomer
Photographer: Bence Toth (Hungary)
Caption: The image shows the central region of the California Nebula (NGC 1499). It tries to show the vast, uncontrollable energy of nature, in a form that resembles the huge waves of a storm in the ocean. RGB channels are used to create the colors of the stars and all the nebulosity is synthesized by the hydrogen-alpha and SII channels. The color assignment of narrowband channels is done to create an image close to true color, but preserving the fine details and depth provided by the narrowband filters.
Equipment and settings: Sky-Watcher Quattro 200P f / 4 telescope, Sky-Watcher EQ6-R mount, ZWO ASI1600MM Pro camera, RGB-Ha-SII composite, 7 hours and 50 minutes total exposure
Annie Maunder Award for Innovation in Imaging
Photographer: Julie F Hill (UK)
Title: Saturn in infrared
Caption: Dark River is a sculptural work that maps, or mirrors, the celestial entity of the Milky Way using one of the largest ever images of its central areas. Referencing Elizabeth Kesseler’s notion of the astronomical sublime, as well as Gaston Bachelard’s idea of ’intimate immensity’, this gigapixel image of the Milky Way, showing some 84 million stars, is reworked into a sculptural ‘affective space’ ‘which offers a physical and imaginative space for involvement with the viewer. The image was obtained with the VISTA telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile and contains nearly nine billion pixels. It was an incredibly large file to work on, so the artist had to cut it down into manageable chunks and then print it. He made 2.2 x 1 meter sections, which he then painstakingly printed and glued by hand to create a 9 x 5 meter sheet when flat.
The image was digitally printed at 300 dpi using archival pigment inks, on a light but sturdy Japanese paper. In creating this piece, the artist was emulating the mosaic process used by astronomers when processing and composing data. The artist has kept the naturalistic colors that astronomers used to color the image, which makes the celestial more terrestrial and recognizable. The full-size print is sculpted to fit the space in which it is displayed.
Equipment and settings: VISTA Survey telescope, Infrared J 1.25μm, Infrared H 1.65μm, Infrared channels 2.15μm, ESO / VVV Survey / D. Thanks Minniti: Ignacio Toledo, Martin Kornmesser
Winners, runners-up, highly praised and selected images will also be featured in the Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, which opens to the public on 23 October.
To find out more about the competition, see all the winners, or learn more about this year’s exhibition, visit the Royal Observatory website here.