Photos of a huge plasma arc next to the Andromeda Galaxy and a colorful image of the Running Chicken Nebula taken by two 14-year-olds are among the winners of the 2023 Royal Observatory Greenwich’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year.
The annual competition, in it’s 15th year, is hosted by London’s Royal Observatory Greenwich features spectacular images of stars, nebulas, and far away galaxies as well as objects closer to home including our sun, our moon and aurorae.
A team of amateur astronomers led by Marcel Drechsler, Xavier Strottner and Yann Sainty won the top prize for their “surprising discovery − a huge plasma arc next to the Andromeda Galaxy.” Scientists are now investigating the newly discovered giant in a transnational collaboration. It could be the largest such structure in the nearby environment in the Universe, Observatory Greenwich wrote in a statement announcing the winners.
Winner and Overall Winner
Andromeda, Unexpected © Marcel Drechsler, Xavier Strottner and Yann Sainty
The Andromeda Galaxy is the closest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way. It is undoubtedly one of the most photographed deep-sky objects ever. The new discovery of such a large structure in the immediate vicinity of the galaxy was all the more surprising.
“What does a discovery image look like? It is mostly a blurry black and white image that depicts an almost invisible faint dot or a spectrum that is incomprehensible to us. However, that was not the case this time. This astrophoto is as spectacular as it is valuable. It not only presents Andromeda in a new way, but also raises the quality of astrophotography to a new level,” said competition judge László Francsics.
The Eyes Galaxies © Weitang Liang, Runner-Up
The Eyes Galaxies (NGC 4438) are the famous interacting galaxies in the Virgo Cluster. They’re small and require a large telescope to reveal their many components, such as the dust in the middle and the tiny flares on the left and right. Those tiny details have rarely been revealed on other amateur images.
“Often considered as part of the larger Markarian’s Chain group of galaxies, these two are definitely worthy of their own close-up. This is a wonderful image, capturing the vibrancy of its targets but also managing to preserve lots of fine dusty detail along with stars and multiple other galaxies as smaller features in the background,” said judge Ed Bloomer
Neighbours © Paul Montague, Highly Commended
A deep-space photograph showing galaxies NGC 5078 and IC879, to the left, and NGC 5101 on the right. The detailed image captures the hazy dust of the galaxies clearly.
‘These neighbouring galaxies have been beautifully photographed co-existing against a background of stars and more distant galaxies. The minute details of both galaxies have been perfectly captured, while the surrounding objects that make up this stunning scene have been imaged so clearly. There is so much more to look at that you find yourself wanting to explore the picture in greater detail,” wrote judge Melissa Brobby.
Brushstroke © Monika Deviat, Winner
An abstract aurora in the shape of a brushstroke. Unusually, the photographer decided to photograph the aurora in isolation.
‘The judging panel loved the elegant simplicity of this abstract image. We are accustomed to seeing aurora from an earthly perspective with mountains, trees and humanmade structures framing the dancing lights. This photograph offers something different, showcasing the beauty of the aurora in isolation. The composition evokes the arts of brush-painting and calligraphy, which are practiced in many cultures around the world,” said Katherine Gazzard.
Circle of Light © Andreas Ettl, Runner-Up
A stunning photograph of a vivid aurora over Skagsanden beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway. The mountain in the background is Hustinden, which the aurora appears to encircle.
‘Pictures of the aurora such as this are so enchanting. The icy temperature of the landscape is almost palpable, with the snow-capped mountain framed by the cold emerald hues. I love the contrast between the two circles of light: the aurora in the sky is smooth and glows with an ethereal quality, whereas its reflection on the beach is beautifully textured with the rugged imprints on the sand,” wrote Imad Ahmed.
Fire on the Horizon © Chester Hall-Fernandez, Highly Commended
New Zealand regularly has aurora but due to its distance from the magnetic pole they are often not particularly vibrant for observers. Due to the increased solar activity the region saw this year, the photographer was able to capture a highly colourful aurora over Birdlings Flat, New Zealand.
Mars-Set © Ethan Chappel, Winner
An occultation of Mars that took place on 8 December 2022. During the occultation, the Moon passes in front of the planet Mars, allowing the astrophotographer to capture both objects together. The image shows Mars behind the Moon’s southern side in impressive detail.
“The occultation of Mars by the Moon was one of the last and greatest celestial events of 2022. It was also one of the most challenging to image. To capture the level of detail on Mars that you see here takes a huge amount of skill and practice. Combined with a crisp, clear, perfectly processed lunar limb, the result is like taking a gigantic telephoto lens into lunar orbit itself! This image is a technical marvel and a real treat to look at – two factors that make it a worthy winner in this category,” said Steve Marsh.
Sundown on the Terminator © Tom Williams, Runner-Up
The Plato Crater is an almost perfectly circular crater that measures 109 km in diameter. This photograph was taken during a local lunar sunset in the last quarter, when approximately half of the Moon’s face is visible from Earth. The image captures dramatic shadows moving across the Moon.
Last Full Moon of the Year Featuring a Colourful Corona During a Close Encounter with Mars © Miguel Claro, Highly Commended
A photograph of the last Full Moon of 2022 immersed in clouds. The colourful ring surrounding the Moon is a lunar corona, which occurs when moonlight is diffracted though water droplets in the Earth’s atmosphere. Mars can just be seen to the right of the Moon, appearing as a small orange dot.
A Sun Question © Eduardo Schaberger Poupeau, Winner
A photograph of the Sun with a huge filament in the shape of a question mark. Solar filaments are arcs of plasma in the Sun’s atmosphere given shape by magnetic fields. The photo is a mosaic of two panels.
‘This is such a clever image as, while we have seen the granulation and surface of the Sun before, I’ve never seen a filament shaped like a question mark before. If you zoom into the surface of the Sun, the image has a paint-like quality – I feel like I can see the brush strokes. There’s a sense of movement and you can almost see the question-mark filament moving if you stare long enough,” said Sheila Kanani.
Dark Star © Peter Ward, Runner-Up
A photograph of the Sun turned ‘inside-out’. The photographer inverted the rectangular image onto polar coordinates to highlight the smaller prominences that occur on the edge of the Sun.
The Great Solar Flare © Mehmet Ergün, Highly Commended
The Sun photographed moving towards its maximum cycle. A large solar flare around 700,000 km long erupts to the left of the image.
People and Space
Zeila © Vikas Chander, Winner
The most northerly part of Namibia’s Atlantic facing coast is one of the most treacherous coastlines in the world and has gained the name the Skeleton Coast. The ship in this photo, Zeila, was stranded on 25 August 2008 and is still in a well-preserved state. The image shows the delicate colours of different star types.
“I really love how the star trails poking through the grey sky provide a stunning backdrop for this stranded ship. It looks as though it’s floating on a sea of fog. It is a hauntingly beautiful image that would be the perfect setting for a ghost story and is one of my favourites from this year’s competition,” said Melissa Brobby.
A Visit to Tycho © Andrew McCarthy, Runner-Up
In this photo, the International Space Station (ISS) has been captured in alignment with the Tycho Crater. While actually 1,000 times closer to Earth than the Moon, this perspective makes it seem like the ISS is in fact orbiting our natural satellite. McCarthy travelled to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, USA, to find the perfect position.
“Two cameras, two telescopes, a close eye on telemetry and a remote drive into the wilderness. To say this photographer has gone out of their way to create this spectacular image is an understatement. The ISS is often photographed as it passes over the lunar disc (from our perspective), yet few can capture it like this. The Station itself is sharp and detailed. The lunar surface below is not only thoughtfully positioned but perfectly resolved and processed. All this would make it a staggering achievement but when you also notice the brown and blue mineral colours that have been reproduced in all their subtle glory you have one of the finest ISS transit images ever made,” wrote Steve Marsh.
Close Encounters of The Haslingden Kind © Katie McGuinness, Highly Commended
Haslingden’s Halo is an 18-meter diameter sculpture located in the hills of Lancashire. McGuinness took inspiration from the Close Encounters of The Third Kind film poster to create her image. More than 150 images, taken over an hour and with exposures of 25 seconds each, were combined to show the apparent rotation of stars around Polaris.
Planets, Comets and Asteroids
Suspended in a Sunbeam © Tom Williams, Winner
A unique view of Venus using infrared or ultraviolet false colour. By going beyond the visible part of the spectrum, a myriad of fine detail within the upper atmosphere of the planet is revealed.
“Venus can be easily found with the naked eye or photographed with a small telescope, as it is the planet with the largest angular diameter that can be seen from Earth. But not like this. Capturing these atmospheric details from the sunlit side of the planet when it is so far from Earth is a remarkable achievement,” wrote László Francsics.
Jupiter Close to Opposition © Marco Lorenzi, Runner-Up
An image of Jupiter 30 minutes after it crossed the meridian. The Great Red Spot and many details of the turbulent atmosphere, primarily composed of hydrogen and helium gas, are clearly visible, including several smaller storms.
“Fifty years ago, NASA’s Pioneer 10 mission hurtled past Jupiter and returned the first close-up images of the gas giant. Astronomers would have been overjoyed to have captured something like this back then. It is not just beautiful but reveals wonderful cloud detail and a very impressive balance of colours across the disc, giving us a coherent view of the planet. Astonishing then, that this image was not produced in the depths of space, but right here on Earth,” said Ed Bloomer.
Grand Cosmic Fireworks © Angel An, Winner
Sprites are an extremely rare phenomenon of atmospheric luminescence that appear like fireworks. An took this photograph from the highest ridge of the Himalaya mountains.
“This is not, as it might first appear, an enormous extra-terrestrial, but the lower tendrils of a sprite (red lightning)! This rarely seen electrical discharge occurs much higher in the atmosphere than normal lightning (and indeed, despite the name, is created by a different mechanism), giving the image an intriguingly misleading sense of scale. While the gradient of colours is beautiful by itself, impressively the image also reveals the delicate structure of the plasma. We really loved that the photographer didn’t capture the whole structure, which extends far beyond the top of the frame. It creates an unsettling, alien image that can’t help but draw your eye,” said judge Ed Bloomer.
Celestial Equator Above First World War Trench Memorial © Louis Leroux-Gere, Runner-Up
Star trails above the preserved First World War trenches in Canadian National Vimy Memorial Park, Northern France. Taken over five hours, the camera captured the rotation of the sky, revealing the colourful stars.
“In April 1917, Canadian and German troops fought and died on this ridge near Vimy in northern France. The Canadian Government later preserved the cratered battlefield as a war memorial. This haunting image contrasts the conflict-scarred landscape with the ethereal beauty of the stars. A line of trees divides the composition into two distinct halves. Above, pastel-coloured star trails trace smooth arcs across the sky. Below, a trench carves a twisted fissure through the dull green grassland. The result is a potent reminder of how human wars have disfigured the surface of our planet,” said Katherine Gazzard.
Noctilucent Night © Peter Hoszang, Highly Commended
Noctilucent clouds are rarely seen around the summer solstice in Hungary, when this photograph was taken. The reflection on the pond below creates a perfect symmetry.
Stars and Nebulae
New Class of Galactic Nebulae Around the Star YY Hya © Marcel Drechsler, Winner
A team of amateur astronomers, led by Marcel Drechsler from Germany and Xavier Strottner from France, were able to make an important contribution to the study of the evolution of binary star systems: on old images of sky surveys, they discovered a previously unknown galactic nebula. At its centre, a pair of stars surrounded by a common envelope was found. On over 100 nights, more than 360 hours of exposure time were collected. The result shows an ultra-deep stellar remnant that the team has baptised ‘the heart of the Hydra’.
‘This is an absolutely breathtaking image of the YY Hya star and its interstellar environment. Remarkably, the nebula was discovered during a search for previously unknown galactic emission nebulae. After more than 360 hours of exposure time the photographer revealed a gorgeous ultra-deep stellar remnant. Not only is this image truly captivating, but it also serves as a fantastic illustration of how amateurs and professional astronomers can come together and achieve great results through collaboration,” said Yuri Beletsky.
LDN 1448 et al. © Anthony Quintile, Runner-Up
A photograph of LDN 1448, which is close to the more spectacular and more often photographed NGC 1333. Quintile chose to photograph the lesser-known molecular cloud to explore the fascinating dust in this part of the sky.
The Dark Wolf – Fenrir © James Baguley, Highly Commended
This image shows a dark, thick molecular cloud in the form of a wolf, known as the Wolf Nebula or Fenrir Nebula. Baguley chose a starless image to emphasize the beautiful red background, which is a dense backdrop of hydrogen gas.
“The photographer has certainly embraced the idea of the Dark Wolf. He has seen this shape and enhanced it to create a scary image of the Fenrir Nebula. The deep red and strength of the black create an amazing composition. Fenrir is a wolf from Norse mythology. It is a fantastic image that merits its highly commended position in a very tough category in the competition,” said Alan Sparrow.
The Sir Patrick Moore Prize for Best Newcomer
Sh2-132: Blinded by the Light © Aaron Wilhelm, Winner
The Sh2-132 complex lies near the border of the Cepheus and Lacerta constellations and contains multiple deep sky structures. The photograph includes 70 hours of data, the rich interplay of all the gasses reveals something different each time you look at it.
“The perseverance and stamina of astrophotographers is what makes us truly stand out in the photography field. Here is an image that really brings home the application required, especially when focusing on the deep sky. This photographer has put in the hours and studied their craft to create a beautiful image of this field of nebulosity. With subtle but varying colours across the whole palette, the dark twisting lanes of dust are resolved in exquisite detail and the stars are perfectly round with no hint of trailing. All this from a newcomer to the field,” said judge Steve Marsh. “It shows that, even at the early stages of astrophotography, there are no limits to what we can achieve.”
Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year
The Running Chicken Nebula © Runwei Xu and Binyu Wang, Winner
The Running Chicken Nebula, IC2944, is located in the constellation of Centaurus, 6,000 light years away from the Earth. Embedded in the nebula’s glowing gas the star cluster Collinder 249 is visible.
Blue Spirit Drifting in the Clouds © Haocheng Li and Runwei Xu, Runner-Up
Pleiades is an open star cluster lit by the brightest stars, which illuminate the surrounding nebula giving it an attractive blue hue. The cluster is also known as the Seven Sisters, because many people can see seven stars. But as astrophotography reveals, there are actually over 1,000.
Moon at Nightfall © Haohan Sun, Highly Commended
A photograph of a moonrise over the Xinghai Bay Bridge in Dalian. Atmospheric extinction alters the hue and brightness of the Moon when it is low on the horizon. In this photo, you can see the Moon appears brighter and less red as it rises in the sky.
Roses Blooming in the Dark: NGC 2337 © Yanhao Mo, Highly Commended
The Rosette Nebula, NGC 2337, is a large nebula and has a diameter of ~130 light years. This image has been achieved using narrowband-filter processing. For the star point LRGB filters have been used.
Lunar Occultation of Mars © Joshua Harwood-White, Highly Commended
The lunar occultation of Mars was one of the most interesting celestial events of 2022. Here, an iPhone was used with a Celestron Astromaster 102az Refractor Telescope to capture the moment just before the Moon blocked our view of Mars.
The Annie Maunder Prize for Image Innovation
Black Echo © John White, Winner
Taking audio source material from NASA’s Chandra Sonification Project, White visually captured the sound of the black hole at the centre of the Perseus Galaxy.
The audio was played through a speaker onto which White attached a petri dish, blacked out at the bottom and then filled with about 3 mm of water. Using a macro lens and halo light in a dark room, White experimented with the audio and volumes to explore the various patterns made in the liquid.
Royal Observatory Greenwich is the home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian and one of the most important historic scientific sites in the world. It is part of Royal Museums Greenwich. These winning photographs are exhibited at the National Maritime Museum in London, England alongside a selection of shortlisted images.
For more information visit www.rmg.co.uk.
Royal Observatory Greenwich, in partnership with Collins, will be publishing Astronomy Photographer of the Year, Collection 12. The book can be preordered through Amazon.