As I mentioned a few days ago, this week saw the announcement of the winners of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year awards, sponsored by the Royal Observatory Greenwich, in association with Sky at Night Magazine. There were many, many spectacular entries in this competition. You can see the winners here.
To encourage you to check out all the winning photographs, I’m not going to reproduce the overall winner. But here are a few more of my favorites from among the various winners. Click on the thumbnails to see larger images. The photo captions below are taken verbatim from the selected images.
Above left – “NGC 6960 – The Witch’s Broom” by Robert Franke (Deep Space: Highly commended). Part of the Veil Nebula, the ‘Witch’s Broom’ is the glowing debris from a supernova explosion – the violent death of a massive star. Although the supernova occurred several thousand years ago, the gaseous debris is still expanding outwards, producing this vast cloud-like structure. In this image narrowband filters have been used to greatly increase detail while giving a reasonable representation of the nebula’s colour.
Above right – “Star Icefall” by Masahiro Miyasaka (Earth and Space: Winner). Taken in Nagano, Japan, this image shows Orion, Taurus and the Pleiades as the backdrop to an eerie frozen landscape. Though the stars appear to gleam with a cold, frosty light, bright blue stars like the Pleiades can be as hot as 30,000 degrees Celsius.
Above left – “Green World” by Arild Heitmann (Earth and Space: Runner up). The aurora borealis traces the shifting patterns of the Earth’s magnetic field, creating a spectacular midwinter show in Nordland Fylke, Norway. The green light in this image comes from oxygen atoms high in the atmosphere, which have been energised by subatomic particles from the Solar Wind.
Above right – “Venus Transit” by Paul Haese (Our Solar System: Highly commended). Perhaps the biggest astronomical event of 2012 was the transit of Venus, which took place in June. Transits occur when Venus passes directly between the Earth and the Sun, appearing as a small black disc passing across the face of our parent star. They occur in pairs, eight years apart, with each pair separated by over a century. The previous transit was in 2004 and the next will not be until December 2117. This is a spectacular view of the active Sun, streaked and blotched with filaments, sunspots and prominences. Venus, a world almost exactly the same size as the Earth, seems dwarfed by the scale and power of our local star.