Astrophotos

Stunning New Images from the 2023 ‘Astronomy Photographer of the Year’ Competition

The winners of the 15th annual “Astronomy Photographer of the Year” competition have been announced at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich England. The annual competition features some of the best space photography taken by amateur astrophotographers from around the world.

For the 2023 competition there were over 4,000 entries from 64 countries. Our lead image features an eye-catching capture of an aurora by photographer Andreas Ettl over the Lofoten Islands of Norway.

“Pictures of the aurora such as this are so enchanting,” said one of the competition’s judges, Imad Ahmed. “The icy temperature of the landscape is almost palpable, with the snow-capped mountain framed by the cold emerald hues. … There are a lot of rich details in the picture too, including a canopy of stars subtly strewn across the sky, really adding to the majesty of the shot.”

See more beautiful images below, plus an image that captured a surprising discovery.

Overall Winner for 2023 Astronomy Photographer of the Year is “Andromeda, Unexpected” © Marcel Drechsler, Xavier Strottner, Yann Sainty, which shows the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and an accompanying arc of plasma that has never been seen before. This image was taken near Nancy, France.

The overall winners of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year are a trio of photographers, Marcel Drechsler, Xavier Strottner and Yann Sainty for their photograph ‘Andromeda, Unexpected.’ This image not only is an amazing look at the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) — the closest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way — but also includes an unexpected discovery: a huge arc of plasma next to the galaxy. Scientists are now investigating the giant wispy cloud of gas, and say it could be the largest such structure nearest to us in the Universe. Since M31 is frequently studied by both amateur and professional photographers, the discovery is surprising.

“This astrophoto is as spectacular as [it is] valuable,” said László Francsics judge and astrophotographer. “It not only presents Andromeda in a new way, but also raises the quality of astrophotography to a higher level.”

Winner of the Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year category, The Running Chicken Nebula © Runwei Xu and Binyu Wang.

Two fourteen-year-old boys from China collaborated to win the Young Astronomy of the Year category. Runwei Xu and Binyu Wang worked together to capture The Running Chicken Nebula. Yuri Beletsky, judge and professional astronomer described it as a “strikingly beautiful picture.” Xu and Wang said, “Thank you to the Greenwich judges. We’re very glad to receive this achievement as winners of the Young Competition.”

Runner-Up in the ‘People and Space’ category: A Visit to Tycho © Andrew McCarthy

One of our favorite astrophotographers, Andrew McCarthy, took the Runner-Up prize in the “People and Space” category with this incredible shot of the International Space Station in front of the Tycho Crater on the Moon.

While the ISS is 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 took this image from 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,” said judge Steve Marsh. “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.”

Highly Commended in the ‘People and Space’ category: Close Encounters of The Haslingden Kind © Katie McGuinness, shows the Haslingden’s Halo, an 18-meter diameter sculpture located in the hills of Lancashire, England and took inspiration from the ‘Close Encounters of The Third Kind’ film poster.
Winner of the “Skyscapes’ category: Grand Cosmic Fireworks © Angel An, showing sprites above the Himalaya Mountains.

Sprites are a rare phenomenon of atmospheric luminescence that appear like fireworks. Angel 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)!” said judge Ed Bloomer. “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… It creates an unsettling, alien image that can’t help but draw your eye.”

Highly Commended in “The Sun” category: The Great Solar Flare © Mehmet Ergün.

Here, the Sun is photographed from Germany, showing a large solar flare around 700,000 km long that erupts on the left of the image.

“I’m blown away by how the photographer has managed to draw out the textures of the Sun’s surface and the intricate shapes of the solar flares to make this image come alive,” said judge Melissa Brobby. “But what I absolutely love about this picture is how the surrounding reddish glow has been wonderfully captured, further bringing to our attention the Sun’s ferocious nature.”

Runner-Up in “The Moon” category: Sundown on the Terminator © Tom Williams.

This incredibly clear and detailed close-up photo of the Moon highlights the dramatic shadows on the lunar surface. It shows Plato Crater, 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, taken from Wiltshire, UK.

“The best part of lunar astrophotography is that the Moon is one of the only objects in the night sky that can truly convey a feeling of three dimensions,” said judge Steve Marsh. “Nowhere is this better presented than when the rising or setting Sun casts shadows across its mountains and craters. The sharpness and clarity of the shadows in this image are breathtaking. There is also a staggering amount of detail resolved in Plato Crater itself with many tiny craterlets visible, some of which are less than a kilometer in diameter. The ripples and waves in the ancient lava-filled maria surrounding the crater are also exquisitely captured, making this one of the finest examples of close-up lunar astrophotography that we have seen this year.”

Winner of the Annie Maunder Prize for Image Innovation: Black Echo © John White. The images takes audio source material from NASA’s Chandra Sonification Project, and visually captures the sound of the black hole at the center of the Perseus Galaxy.

Probably the most unique photo in the competition is this sonification of a black hole, by John White. The photographer explained that the audio was played through a speaker onto which he 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.

Congratulations to all the winners and entrants. For all the winners see the Royal Museums Greenwich website. If you are lucky enough to be in the UK, you can see an exhibition of the winning photos opening at the National Maritime Museum on Saturday September 16, 2023. The Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition is run by Royal Observatory Greenwich, supported by Liberty Specialty Markets and in association with BBC Sky at Night Magazine.

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004, and has published over 6,000 articles on space exploration, astronomy, science and technology. She is the author of two books: "Eight Years to the Moon: the History of the Apollo Missions," (2019) which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible; and "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" (2016) tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond. Follow Nancy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Nancy_A and and Instagram at and https://www.instagram.com/nancyatkinson_ut/

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