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Stunning image of the Andromeda galaxy takes top prize in astronomy photographer of the year 2020


A stunning image of the closest galaxy to the Milky Way – the Andromeda galaxy – has won first prize in the annual Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition run by the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. 

More than 5,000 people from six continents entered the annual event – now in its twelfth year – with the winning entries all showcased in an exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in London. 

French photographer Nicolas Lefaudeux beat thousands of amateur and professional photographers from around the globe to win the astrophotography event to claim the Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2020 title. 

As well as securing the £10,000 top prize, his image of the Andromeda Galaxy takes pride of place in the exhibition of winning photographs opening at the National Maritime Museum on October 23, 2020.

The judges were captivated by Lefaudeux’s awe-inspiring image that was taken in Forges-les-Bains, Île-de-France, adding that the photograph depicts a version of the Andromeda Galaxy seemingly at arm’s length – despite being light-years away. 

Competition judge Ed Robinson said of the winning entry: ‘To most of us, our closest neighbouring galaxy Andromeda can also feel so distanced and out of reach, yet to create a photograph that gives us the impression that it is just within our physical reach is truly magical, and somewhat appropriate as we adjust after such socially distanced times’. 

  • There were more than 5,000 entries from six continents
  • Winning entries are on show at the National Maritime Museum
  • Categories included galaxies, aurora and planetary bodies
  • The junior winner was 11 year-old Alice Fock Hang who captured four planets and the Moon in alignment 
  • An image that seems to show Andromeda within arms reach won the overall competition and the galaxies category 

As well as the overall winner, there are category winners including galaxies, aurorae, our own Moon, the Sun, people and space, planets, comets and asteroids and skyscapes. There are also prizes for young astronomers and the best newcomer.

Other category winning images including the breath-taking Aurora Borealis above Hamn i Senja, Skaland, Norway taken by Nicolas Roemmelt in Germany in the aurora category and pictures of Jupiter and its moons by Lukasz Sujka.   

Sujka, from Poland, showcases the alignment of our moon and Jupiter, framed by three of Jupiter’s moons in his image that won the planets, comets and asteroids category.

A remarkable illustration of ‘The Prison of Technology’, the satellite trails between earth and the Albireo double star, won the people and space category – taken by photographer Rafael Schmall of Hungary. 

Best Newcomer Bence Toth won with a stunning image of the central region of the California Nebula, and the young competition winner was an image of four planets and the Moon by 11-year-old Alice Fock Hang.

BBC Sky at Night Magazine’s Art Editor Steve Marsh, who is also a judge for the competition, said of this year’s contest: ‘Another year of incredible variety, ingenuity and show stopping talent has given us a real feast for the eyes in the 2020 competition. 

‘From vast aurora to fiery nebulae to an intimate look at our closest galactic neighbour, there really is something for everyone and the worldwide astrophotography community continues to impress and amaze us at every step.’

Dr Emily Drabek-Maunder, Astronomer at Royal Museums Greenwich and judge for the competition, said: ‘The global situation made judging and shortlisting extremely challenging this year, particularly with judges spread across different countries! 

‘However, the photographs have exceeded our expectations and the innovation demonstrated by the entrants has been phenomenal.’

In each of the categories there was a winner, runner-up and highly commended entry, all of which will be shown at the National Maritime Museum exhibition that opens on October 23, 2020.

Lefaudeux’s Andromeda Galaxy at Arm’s Length won both the galaxy and overall prize. Despite being two million light years from Earth, the image appears to be within reach. 

Unfortunately, this is just an illusion. In order to obtain the tilt-shift effect, the photographer 3D-printed a part to hold the camera at an angle at the focus of the telescope. 

The blur created by the defocus at the edges of the sensor gives this illusion of closeness to Andromeda. 

Not all galaxies have an easily memorable name such as Andromeda. The runner-up in the galaxy competition was a picture of NGC 3628 with a 300,000 light year long tail by Mark Hanson of the US.

NGC 3628 is a popular galaxy target for both astrophotographers and visual observers with its distinctive dust lane. 

Studies by professional astronomers have shown that the evolution of some galaxies are the product of a series of minor merges with smaller dwarf galaxies. 

This image is an epic undertaking of five years of exposures taken with three different telescopes, although the majority of the exposure was in 2019.  

The Moon category was particularly popular, with pictures ranging from close ups of a crater through to potential Moon bases and a partial lunar eclipse.

The winning entry in the Moon category was of the Tycho Crater Region with Colours by Alain Paillou of France. The Tycho crater is one of the most famous craters on the Moon. 

This huge impact has left very impressive scars on the Moon’s surface. With the colours of the soils, Tycho is even more impressive. This picture combines one session with a black-and-white camera, to capture the details and sharpness, and one session with a colour camera, to capture the colours of the soils. 

These colours come mainly from metallic oxides in small balls of glass and can give useful information about the Moon’s geology and history. The blue shows a high titanium oxide concentration and the red shows high iron oxide concentration. 

This picture reveals the incredible beauty and complexity of our natural satellite.  

Moon Base by Daniel Koszela of Poland was highly recommended in the Moon category – it shows the Full Moon over the highest peak of the Krkonoše Mountains, Śnieżka. 

The single frame image was taken in December 2019, shortly after sunset, one and a half miles from the summit. 

The weather was perfect with few clouds and no wind. The building on the left is a meteorological observatory and on the right you can see the chapel of St. Lawrence.

In the stars and nebulae category an image by Peter Ward of Australia, dubbed Cosmic Inferno, won the main prize.  

NGC 3576 is a well-known nebula in southern skies, but is shown here without any stars. Software reveals just the nebula, which has been mapped into a false colour palette. 

The scene takes on the look of a celestial fire-maelstrom. The image is intended to reflect media images taken in Australia during 2019 and 2020, where massive bushfires caused the destruction of native forests and have claimed over 12 million acres of land. 

It shows nature can act on vast scales and serves as a stark warning that our planet needs nurturing. 

The Dolphin Jumping out of an Ocean of Gas by Connor Matherne from the US was the runner-up in this category.

This target is officially known as Sh2-308, but the photographer has always enjoyed calling it the Dolphin Nebula. It is a bubble of gas being shed by the bright blue star in the centre of the image as it enters its pre-supernova phase. 

The red star to the right could possibly be influencing the shape too and might be responsible for the bill of the dolphin. While it won’t explode in our lifetimes, seeing the warning signs are quite neat.  

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