Astronomical! 10 jaw-dropping images of the heavens

Shortlisted entries from the 13th Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition will make you say wow!

Fans of celestial photography are in for a treat and some real inspiration as the shortlisted entries for the 13th Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition have been announced and each frame is an absolute work of art, capturing rarely-seen sights from our skies and even deeper into space.

One of the most prestigious competitions for astro photographers, the contest has received over 4,500 One of the most prestigious competitions for astro photographers, the contest has received over 4,500 entries from 75 different countries, including this entry from Russian photographer Vitaliy Novikov, who captured ‘Aurora in Murmansk’ using a Nikon D850 DSLR. Capturing the polar lights in Murmansk wasn’t an easy feat for the photographer because of the bright lights in the city. To photograph the Aurora Borealis in Murmansk, you must wait for a very strong solar flare. The photographer was able to capture the Aurora over the Kola Bay after several attempts and many hours of waiting and wanted to showcase this optical phenomenon in an urban landscape.

Image by Vitaliy Novikov / Astrophotographer of the Year

‘A Daytime Transit’ by US photographer Andrew McCarthy shows a different view of the International Space Station (ISS) transiting a very slim waning crescent moon during broad daylight. The photographer used two cameras and two telescopes to capture a luminance frame including the ISS, and the scene in colour. The ISS transit was shot using RAW video with a monochrome camera, while a one-shot colour camera was simultaneously capturing shots to get the proper colours. Then the two images were blended together to complete the scene.

Image by Andrew McCarthy / Astrophotographer of the Year

Crotian photographer Ivan Vucetic captured this spectacular scene, entitled; ‘Dugi Otok – Variant A’ using a Nikon D600. The photograph shows a captivating star trail over Dugi Otok in Croatia and the extraordinary relationship between our Planet and the Universe in a way that the human eye cannot perceive it. The photographer intended to capture the reflection of the stars on the water together with the sky, however during the long exposure time that was necessary for star trails the wind increased and seeing conditions were not favourable enough for a clear reflection of the stars. The photographer had to use the stars from the sky in post-processing to achieve the final result.

Image by Ivan Vucetic / Astrophotographer of the Year

NGC 2024 – Flame Nebula by Australia-based Steven Mohr delves deep into space. The Flame Nebula, designated as NGC 2024 and Sh2-277, is an emission nebula in the constellation Orion, lying some 900 to 1,500 light-years away from Earth. The bright star Alnitak (just outside the field of view at the top of this image), the easternmost star in the Belt of Orion, shines energetic ultraviolet light into the Flame and this knocks electrons away from the great clouds of hydrogen gas that reside there. Much of the glow results when the electrons and ionized hydrogen recombine. Additional dark gas and dust lies in front of the bright part of the nebula, and this is what causes the dark network that appears in the centre of the glowing gas. The Flame Nebula is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, a star-forming region that includes the famous Horsehead Nebula.

Image by Steven Mohr / Astrophotographer of the Year

This magical image is entitled; ‘Path of the Full Moon above the Sleeping City’ was captured by French photographer Rémi Leblanc-Messager using a Canon 6D.The photographer’s aim for this image was to focus on the Moon’s trajectory at the centre of the photograph, dividing the human world from the sky. It was tight to time the dark sky just after sunset and the moonrise behind the buildings. The curfew imposed in France decided the location – these roofs look out onto the photographer’s flat in the centre of Paris. The photographer had to predict the precise moment and place that the Full Moon would come out from behind the buildings. The woman standing on the roof appears to be the link between the city and the sky.

Image by Rémi Leblanc-Message / Astrophotographer of the Year

Iceland Vortex by New Zealander Larryn Rae is a 250 panorama of the Aurora Borealis in Iceland. The photographer came across this estuary that reflected the sky perfectly on a well below freezing winters night, and captured the panorama first, and then took a shot of himself out on the ice. For the photographer this is one of the most amazing aurora images that he has ever captured, and it sums up an awe-inspiring trip to Iceland in wintertime that also emphasised the feeling of being just a tiny part of the planet’s existence in the face of a very powerful natural environment. The panorama is comprised of twenty images, two rows of ten, captured on a Canon 5DMk3 and Canon 16-35mm

Image by Larryn Rae / Astrophotographer of the year

Château de Chambord was captured by Benjamin Barakat, who is based in the UK. 

This magnificent château in Chambord, Centre-Val de Loire, France was an amazing location chosen by the photographer’s best friend and mentor Ralf Rohner, but it proved to be a challenging one as the castle had intervals of illumination with a minute’s pause every 15 minutes. During the pauses, the photographer shot away trying to get as many images as possible and while processing it he had to try to mimic the reflection due to the time delay caused by the castle lights.

Image by Benjamin Baraka / Astrophotographer of the Year

Entitled ‘Saturn at its Best’ the name of this image by Damian Peach really does say it all. In this image, Saturn is shown near its best for 2020, displaying a wealth of details across the globe and ring system. The famous polar hexagon can be seen around the pole at bottom, while many other belts and zones are seen across the planet. The famous Cassini and Encke divisions dominate the view of the rings.

Image by Damian Peach / Astrophotographer of the Year

Star Fall by Chinese photographer Wang Zheng was captured using a Canon 6D Mark II DSLR. In the Tengger Desert, located in Minqin County, there is a mysterious group of artificial sculptures. The metal columns that point to the sky in this picture are called raindrops. By day, it falls like a raindrop in the desert, but the photographer prefers it at night under the Milky Way. After the Moon sets, the metal sculpture reflects the light of the Milky Way, making the sculpture’s outline very clear. Extremely bright starlight in the desert is reflected off the metal surface like a column of light from a vast universe of stars hitting the ground. The photographer placed the camera at a very low position in the centre of the sculpture, facing towards the sky. 

Image by Wang Zheng / Astrophotographer of the Year

Star trails over the Lujiazui City Skyline was shot by Daning Kai using a Sony a7R III. The spectacualr frame shows star trails over the Lujiazui city in Pudong District and you can even distinguish the Belt of Orion. Lujiazui is the most prosperous place in Shanghai, China and the light pollution is very heavy but if the weather is clear, you can see the stars. The photographer captured this photo on a very clear autumn night. The beautiful starry sky is above us, and even if you live in a city, and you can still look up at it.

Image by Daning Kai / Astrophotographer of the Year