There were thousands of entries this year to the Royal Observatory Greenwich's Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2013 competition. These awe inspiring images are the best of the bunch.
Top image: The overall winner: "Guiding Light to the Stars" by Mark Gee (Australia). It shows a spectacular view of the Milky Way arching over the coast of the North Island of New Zealand. The bright light you see is from the Cape Palliser Lighthouse. The wide panorama was stitched together with 20 individual images.
For the contest, entrants had to submit five pictures. Photos could include anything from amazing landscapes that capture celestial phenomena, through to stunning deep space images taken by orbital telescopes.
A panel of judges selected the winner across several categories, including Earth and Space, Our Solar System, Deep Space, Young Astronomy Photographer, and others. Winners received a top prize of £1,500 (USD$2,412) and will have their work displayed alongside other chosen pictures at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.
Here are some of our favorites:
Images and captions via The Royal Museums Greenwich. Photographer info is listed below each image.
A Quadruple Lunar Halo by Danie Caxete. From the photographer:
Sometimes falling ice crystals make the atmosphere into a giant lens, causing arcs and halos to appear around the Sun or Moon. This past Saturday night was just such a time near Madrid, where a winter sky displayed not only a bright Moon but as many as four rare lunar halos. The brightest object in this image is the Moon. Far in the background is a skyscape that includes Sirius, the belt of Orion and Betelgeuse, all visible between the inner and outer arcs.
Related: The Hottest Space Porn of 2012; The Most Stunning Astronomy Photos of the Year (2012).
Celestial Impasto: sh2–239 by Adam Block (USA). This was the winner of the Deep Space category. From judge Pete Lawrence:
There’s an ethereal quality to this image. The main bright nebula reminds me of a bullet-shaped spacecraft disintegrating, heading away from the viewer. Galactic dust has never looked so lovely. The pink filaments of the emission nebula are quite superb.
Green Energy by Fredrik Broms (Norway). From the photographer:
With this image I wanted to show the magic and dramatic feeling of being drawn into the whirlpool of a powerful Northern Lights corona. With its enormous power it almost resembles an artist’s impression of what the fate of light around a black hole might look like. The illumination of the snow is created by the strong moonlight.
Icy Visitor by Fredrik Broms (Norway). The image shows the nucleus of Comet Panstarrs. Its tail of gas and dust is hundreds of thousands of kilometers long.
Snowy Range Perseid Meteor Shower by David Kingham (USA). What it shows:
The Perseid meteors get their name from the constellation of Perseus, from where they appear to come. However, even at the peak of the shower it is impossible to predict exactly when or where the next meteor will appear. Here, the photographer has combined 23 individual stills to convey the excitement and dynamism of this natural firework display.
Corona Composite of 2012: Australian Totality by Man-To Hui (China). This was the winner of the "Our Solar System" category. From the photographer:
It took me two months to process all the images to achieve this relatively satisfactory corona-composite result. This is the longest image-processing work I have ever experienced. I did not push very hard to extract the very subtle details in the corona, but did slightly to reconstruct the view observed by the naked eye as vividly as I could. I spent a lot of time admiring the corona; it is beyond my description.
Ring of Fire by Jia Hao. What it shows:
The Moon’s orbit around the Earth is not perfectly circular, so that at different times it can be slightly closer or further away than usual. If the Moon passes in front of the Sun when it is at its furthest point, it will appear to be too small entirely to cover the solar disc. This is an ‘annular eclipse’ in which a ring, or annulus, of the Sun remains visible. This composite shot shows the progress of an annular eclipse in May 2013. Close to the horizon the distorting effects of Earth’s atmosphere can also be seen.
Magnetic Maelstrom by Alan Friedman (USA). Each of these dark patches on the Sun are about the size of Earth.
Omega Centurai by Ignacio Diaz Bobillo. What it shows:
Omega Centauri is a globular cluster, a spherical cloud containing several million stars. As this image shows, the stars are more densely clustered towards the centre. The pronounced red colour of several of the stars gives away the cluster’s great age: it is thought to have been formed many billions of years ago. The cluster was first noted by the astronomer Ptolemy almost 2000 years ago and catalogued in 1677 by Edmond Halley (laterAstronomer Royal).
Floating Metropolis by Michael Sidonio (Australia). From the photographer:
NGC 253 is often referred to as the Silver Dollar Galaxy. This deep image shows many bright regions and unusual streamers of stars, which rise vertically across the enormous stellar disc. The extensive, but very faint and rarely seen, outer galactic halo of stars is also evident. This was my first venture under dark rural skies with my telescope. Next time I would like to go even deeper to see if the halo extends further.
M81 -82 and Integrated Flux Nebula by Ivan Eder (Hungary). What it shows:
Lying at a distance of twelve million light years from Earth, M81 and M82 are galaxies with a difference. Close encounters between the two objects have forced gas down into their central regions. In M81 this influx of gas is being devoured by a supermassive black hole. In neighbouring M82 the gas is fuelling a burst of new star formation, which in turn is blasting clouds of hydrogen (shown in red) back out into space.
The Rho Ophiuchi and Antares Nebulae by Tom O'Donoghue (Ireland). What it shows:
The smoky appearance of the dust clouds in this image is fitting, since the grains of dust which make up the nebula are similar in size to particles of smoke here on Earth. The dust can reflect the light of nearby stars, as seen in the blue and yellow regions. It can also block and absorb the light of more distant stars, appearing brown and black in this image. To the right, a bright star is ionizing a cloud of hydrogen gas and causing it to glow red, while below it, far in the distance, is a globular cluster containing thousands of stars.
The Milky Way Galaxy by Jacob Marchio (USA), aged 14. Winner of the Young Astronomy Photographer award. From Judge Pete Lawrence:
This is a spectacular image. From a dark sky site, the Milky Way can look bright and stunning but photographically it requires great care and attention. Here the imager has produced a fantastic, sharp result showing the intricate and subtle dust lanes that cross the core of our galaxy.
Moon Silhouettes by Mark Gee (Australia). Winner of People and Space award.
Related: Some of the Year's most Startling Science Images; Best Engineering Photography of 2012 Is Explosively Awesome.