Just how good do you think you are at taking a picture of the night sky? That’s the question thousands asked themselves when they entered the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition.
The competition is run by the Royal Observatory Greenwich, showcases the best astronomy photos that capture the beautiful and spectacular visions of the cosmos, the vast galaxies millions of light-years away, and the night sky taken much closer to home.
Over the years, thousands of spectacular images have been submitted from over 60 countries across the globe in the competition’s main categories.
Those categories include everything from photographing the sun, the planets, galaxies, the moon, and even aurorae.
There are also two special prizes: The Sir Patrick Moore Prize for Best Newcomer is awarded to the best photo by an amateur astrophotographer who has taken up the hobby in the last year and who has not entered an image into the competition before, and Robotic Scope, acknowledges the best photo taken using one of the increasing number of computer-controlled telescopes at prime observing sites around the world which can be accessed over the internet by members of the public.
The overall winner receives a large cash prize and runners-up get a payout too.
We’re rounding up some of the best images from the last few years for you to enjoy.
Ghost of Eta
NGC3324 aka the Gabriela Misteral Nebula shown on the right here is more known to resemble a face and was named after the Nobel prize winner.
However, to the photographer (Rakibul Syed) it resembles a Ghost guarding the nearby more popular Eta Carina nebula, leading to the title ‘Ghost of Eta’
Quiver trees and Shooting Star
The Milky Way shines over quiver trees at Bet-El Farm in the Northern Cape of South Africa. The photographer used diffused LED lights to illuminate the trees rivalling the glow from the star above.
Taken on the 14 April 2014; the day of the eclipse, in Canyonlands National Park. The moon rose as the sun set, and at the time the image was taken, the moon was just above one of the Buttes in the park.
Westerhever at Night
Light rays emitted by the lighthouse streaking across the night sky are captured by a long exposure (20s).
One of the glasses in the lighthouse creates a red beam, contrasting with the southern part of the Milky Way visible on the left of the photograph.
Total Solar Eclipse Faroe Islands
This image was created from a sequence of the total Solar Eclipse on 20 March 2015.
The image is a composite intended to visualize how the eclipse progresses over two hours and was taken as part of a photo session to capture the total solar eclipse in the Faroe Islands – one of the only two populated locations to experience totality. This was the first attempt of Remy and his daughter Rebecca shooting a solar eclipse, which they had prepared for over a year.
Lunar Eclipse setting over Convict Lake
The landscape around Convict Lake was well-lit by the moonlight as the Lunar eclipse started when the photographer took the image.
He then captured the moon at roughly 8-minute intervals thereafter and merged the sequential images into the original exposure using StarStaX. A second camera was used to test exposure so the main camera could be adjusted as the moon dimmed.
Galaxy Curtain Call Performance
This brilliant photo shows an incredible night’s sky view over a bank of radar dishes designed to monitor radio astronomy. It won the Sir Patrick Moore Prize in 2018 and it’s easy to see why.
Transport the Soul
2018’s winning photo for the people and space category certainly shows the breathtaking expanse of space as a backdrop to the rocky plains.
Sun King, little King, and God of War
A staggering view of our sun somehow presented with stunning stark surroundings. Another amazing astronomy photo that’s a real winner. 2018’s winner of the “Our Sun” category in fact.
Full Moonrise Composite
Taken from just outside Port de Pollenca in Majorca, the photographer set the camera to take images two seconds apart to create a timelapse. He then selected six images taken 140 seconds apart and stacked them using StarStax to get the effect of the moons just touching. The colour change in the rising moon illustrates a beautiful display of atmospheric Rayleigh scattering.
Taken at the Dark Sky site of the Brecon Beacons, the image shows the Sgwd yr Eira Waterfall in the National Park gleaming under the night sky.
The photographer was able to position his camera on one side of the river, cross behind the waterfall and trigger the camera from the other side of the river using only his phone meaning he could use just the right amount of light to gently illuminate the landscape.
IC2177 – The Seagull Nebula
The name Seagull Nebula is sometimes applied by amateur astronomers, although it more accurately includes the neighbouring regions of star clusters, dust clouds and reflection nebulae.
This latter region includes the open clusters NGC 2335 and NGC 2343 and the reflection nebula NGC 2327.
It’s hard not to take a good photo of auroras and the colourful light shows presented by the Northern lights, but saying that might underplay the talent behind an image like this.
This snap by Jingyi Zhang appeared in the people and space category in 2018.
Glacier Aurora II
This photograph is proof that your Instagram snaps will rarely be good enough to stand up to the professionals.
Lining up all the ingredients for a glacier ice night shoot at the Athasbasca Glacier, in Jasper National Park was exciting enough for the photographer, but when the sky filled with aurora it was all the more exciting.
The aurora showed a wide array of colours and shapes over the Canadian Rockies and lasted several hours, making a dream come true for the photographer.
The Tower and the Milky Way
In Malin Head, Co. Donegal, the Milky Way illuminates the sky above a tall derelict building known locally as “The Tower” that was built in 1805 by the Admiralty, and later used as a Lloyds Signal Station.
This manmade structure looms large on the landscape and yet the photograph shows how insignificant it is backdropped by an infinite number of stars.
The Stars Among Us
Taken in Kirkjufell, Iceland, the photographer was worried that on his first stargazing session in Iceland he would not have the best view of the night sky.
With patience and a little luck after a couple of hours the storm clouds drifted away and revealed the sea of stars behind and took a self-portrait to document his experience.
Good things come to those who wait.
Taken in the Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in British Columbia, the photographer spent most of his night on the Niblet taking in the breathtaking view.
We enjoy seeing these photos with lone individuals seemingly lost in magnificent views of nature. Even more so at night when the view is so impressive.
Deep Dumbbell Nebula
A striking image of the Dumbbell Nebula (M27) exposed for 79 hours (using [O III] and [Halpha + [NII]) Filter and classical LRGB data).
The image shows a very faint outer halo of the planetary nebula that could indicate an early ejection period. The faint emission nebula also mixes with background nebulosity in the area.
Skogafoss, Iceland – 360 Degree Panorama
Here’s a panoramic time-lapse photo of the aurorae which took four cameras and a lot of patience to pull off.
On the night of October 27th 2014, the aurorae flowed through the sky like cold river at the bottom of the mighty Skogafoss.
In a shallow spot, the photographer placed his 4 cameras with fisheye rigs to shoot a panorama time-lapse for several hours.
The Magic Mountain
A breathtaking display of the aurora in the remote fishing village of Grundarfjörður, on Iceland’s west coast taken at 3am in the morning.
Venus and Mars in conjunction with Moon
Sometimes even the simplest of images can turn out to be utterly staggering.
Looking at the western evening sky on February 20th 2015, the photographer was aware that dazzling Venus and the red planet Mars had been locked in a celestial embrace over the previous few nights.
When a young crescent Moon muscled in on the planetary dance it provided him with a compelling photographic opportunity. He experimented with exposures until he had adequately exposed earthshine on the nighttime side of the Moon.
This image was the winner of the Stars and Nebulae category of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition and it’s easy to see why.
What looks like an angry view of the universe and the elements that create the space we live in.
Anniversary of Apollo 11 Mission
Some of these photographs are inspired by real events. In this case, Qiqige Zhao set about creating an image as a celebration of the anniversary of the Apollo 11 Mission.
The homage is a magnificent one as well. This image was one of those shortlisted in the Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2020 Young Competition category.
Polar Lights Dance
The 2021 winner of the Aurorae category was this image by Dmitrii Rybalka. It was taken aboard a ship approaching the Kara Strait, Russia and shows a brilliant light show in the night sky.
The Milky Ring
Some of these images are staggeringly impressive not just for the view the photographer has captured but also for the effort that went into them. LIke this award winner from 2021 which apparently took two years to complete.
Falcon 9 soars past the Moon
Paul Eckhardt won the best newcomer category in 2021 with this well-timed photo of Falcon 9 soaring up in front of the moon.
He used some apps to work out where the best place for the shot:
“Four hours before the launch, I downloaded the PhotoPills app, subscribed to flightclub.io and started a mad dash to understand both applications and pinpoint a location where the flight arc would overlap the Moon…I made a quick calculation, parked and ran a hundred feet in the dark. The sky lit up as Falcon 9 soared straight up, tilted over, and aimed right at the Moon.”
Death Valley isn’t a place you’d expect to look pretty. Nor the spot for an award-winning photograph, but that’s exactly what this one is.
This shot by Jeffrey Lovelace was chosen as the 2021 winner in the Skyscapes category of the awards and shows a brilliant crescent moon over the flowing sand dunes.
We never get bored of these sorts of photos. Well framed, perfectly positioned and wonderfully backdropped. Showing both the beauty of our world and the universe in one single image. Impressive stuff.
Chateau De Chambord
This breathtaking photo of Château De Chambord taken in Chambord, Loir-et-Cher, France appeared in the shortlisted Skyscapes images and almost looks like it belongs in a fairy tale.
This brilliant halo was created by an especially bright moon and a very chilly night:
“When I took this photo it was -16°C and the air was filled with small ice crystals that made this halo possible…This regular 22° halo is more commonly seen around the Sun. The moonlight needs to be quite strong to make the halo visible, so it’s more common around the days of a full moon. Last night the Moon was 90% lit so almost full. To the left you can see the city lights of Östersund, Sweden, and at 5 o’clock in the halo you can see it crossing the constellation of Orion. In the foreground you can see the tracks from a rabbit that hopped up to the trees.”