The Astronomy Photographer of the Year award is run by the Royal Observatory Greenwich in association with BBC Sky at Night Magazine and Liberty Special Markets. This year’s overall winner is the Austrian photographer Gerald Rhemann for his stunning shot of Comet Leonard’s gas tail being disconnected and carried away on the solar wind. Mr Rhemann said, ‘This award is one of the highlights of my astrophotography work. All the effort that went into making this image a success was worth it.’ As part of the award, Mr Rhemann won £10,000 and a one-year subscription to BBC Sky at Night Magazine.
Mr Rhemann captured the image of the long-period comet — first spotted in January 2021, when it was the brightest comet of the year — from Namibia last Christmas Day.
His shot will provide an enduring memento of the comet for astronomers, which experts have said won’t be seen from the Earth again.
UK Space Agency Digital Communications Officer Melissa Brobby — one of the contest’s judges — said: “When I first saw this image of Comet Leonard, I was blown away.”
“This picture of a recent visitor to our Solar System has been captured so beautifully. The stars in the background five the comet’s tail a magical appearance.
She concluded: “I could stare at this image all day.”
Mr Rhemann’s photograph — along with the winners of the other categories — will go on display in an exhibition at the National Maritime Museum that opens tomorrow.
A pair of 14-year-old boys from China — Yang Hanwen and Zhou Zezhen — won the Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year award with their photo of one the Milky Way’s closest and largest neighbours, entitled “Andromeda Galaxy: The Neighbour”.
Mr Yang said: “I think this photo shows how gorgeous our nearest neighbour is.”
Mr Zhou added: “I feel honoured, and thank the judges. One of the main functions of astrophotography is to attract more people to fall in love with astronomy by showing the beauty of the Universe.”
Competition judge and Hungarian Astrophotographers’ Association Chair László Francsics said: “It is a superb capture by young astrophotographers, who also demonstrate their exceptional talent in processing a deep-sky photo.”
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Other winning entries this year included a shot of the Northern Lights reflected off of a freezing Icelandic lake, submitted by Filip Hrebenda of Slovakia; British photographer Martin Lewis’s shot of Plato, a giant crater on the Moon; and Weitang Liang of China’s submission entitled “The Eye of God”, the subject of which is the Helix Nebula.
One of the judges’ highlights was American photographer Andrew McCarthy’s “The International Space Station Transiting Tranquillity Base”, which shows the orbital laboratory passing over the site of the first manned Moon landing in 1969 and took the top spot in the “People & Space” category.
Judge and New Crescent Society director Imad Ahmed said that the shot was one of his favourite pictures in this year’s competition.
He added: “The ancient rocky expanse of the Moon serves as the perfect background for the inquisitive International Space Station.
“To me, this not only captures our human fascination with the Moon, but hints at a future, where touching down on its surface may finally, one day, be an opportunity open to all of us.”
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Judge and BBC Sky at Night Magazine Art Editor Steve Marsh said: “‘The world’s best astrophotographers have turned out to showcase their talent and innovation.
“Fourteen years of the competition have shown that astronomy is timeless and can withstand anything.
“This year has showcased some almost ‘space telescope’ quality imaging, with entrants pouncing on celestial events as they happen, finding new ways to bring us well documented objects and showing acute knowledge of their craft.
“As ever, it has been both humbling and a pleasure to judge these incredible images.”