9 must-see images that light up the sky

Check out these incredible images from the Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest...

With wide-angle, fast aperture lenses becoming more and more affordable, there’s never been more interest in astrophotography and the best of the best from this genre have been recognised through the world renowned Royal Observatory Greenwich’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest.

Now in its 13th year, the contest received 4,500 entries from 75 countries and offers a whopping £10,000 top prize, with winning photos also exhibited at the prestigious National Maritime Museum in London. This year’s Overall Winner was announced as Shuchang Dong, who claimed the top prize for an image entitled; ‘The Golden Ring’ and captured the annular solar eclipse using a Fujifilm X-T4 camera.

Image by Shuchang Dong / APOTY

Another jaw-dropping winner was this image taken from the bridge of a ship by the Third Officer Dmitrii Rybalka (Russia), who was on watch duty that night. Entitled ‘Polar Lights Dance’, the image won the Aurora category and was captured using a Sony a7III camera paired with a 28mm lens during a 25 second exposure.

Image by Dmitrii Rybalka / APOTY

The winner of the Galaxies category was announced as Chinese photographer Zhong Wu, who captured an image entitled ‘The Milky Ring’ using a Nikon D810a paired with a 40mm f/1.4 lens. The image is a 360-degree mosaic that took the photographer two years to complete.

Image by Zhong Wu / APOTY

French photographer Nicolas Lefaudeux took the top spot in the ‘Our Moon’ category for this mesmerising image entitled ‘Beyond the Limb’. In a perspective reminiscent of the Apollo missions, the lunar horizon is crowned with a planet crescent. However, this is not Earth rising above the Moon captured by a probe orbiting our satellite, but Venus just before it gets occulted by the Moon, as observed from Earth in daylight on 19 June 2020. The rocky horizon of the Moon appears very dark in contrast with the gleaming crescent of the planet enshrouded by white clouds.

Image by Nicolas Lefaudeu / APOTY

The winner of the People And Space category was named as UK photographer Deepal Ratnayaka, who took top spot for an image entitled Lockdown, which was captured with a Sony a6600. With the UK being in full lockdown and travel restricted for many months due to the pandemic, astrophotography became the Deepal’s focus. This photo sums up the year 2020 – cramped but hopeful.

Image by Deepal Ratnayak / APOTY

A Colourful Quadrantid Meteor by US photographer Frank Kuszaj was the winner of the Planets, Comets And Asteroids category. The photographer was shooting with two other friends on that cold January evening. They weren’t planning to capture meteors but distant galaxies and nebulas. After setting up the camera to shoot the Leo Triplet galaxies, the photographer and his friends saw a bright green meteor burning right before their eyes as it tore through Earth’s atmosphere. They were all in awe of witnessing a fireball meteor. After they caught their breath, one of the friends mentioned that the photographer’s camera was pointing in the comet’s direction, but the photographer thought there was no way he could have caught it as he had zoomed all the way in. Once he checked his camera there it was – perfectly framed.

Image by Frank Kuszaj / APOTY

The winner of the hotly-contested Skyscapes category was announced as US photographer Jeffrey Lovelace, who picked up the top spot for an image entitled ‘Luna Dunes’. The image was captured in Death Valley National Park, California using a Sony A7R IV and shows a smouldering crescent Moon floating in an ocean blue atmosphere above quiet, glowing dunes of sand and the red of the sunset has faded into the blue twilight.

Image by Jeffrey Lovelace / APOTY

Adding a splash of colour to Stars and Nebulae group was this category-winning image – entitled ‘California Dreamin’ by UK photographer Terry Hancock. The California Nebula, otherwise known as NGC 1499, was captured over seven nights in 2021 using broadband and narrowband filters, with a total integration time of 16.1 hours. This emission nebula is around 100 light-years long and 1,000 light years away from Earth. It is named California Nebula because it appears to resemble the outline of the US State of California.

Image by Terry Hancock / APOTY

15-year-old Zhipu Wang from China took home the top prize in the Young Competition category for his astonishing composition of the Sun, the Moon and the planets of the Solar System. Competition judge Dr Sheila Kanani said: “As a planetary scientist I applaud the work that has gone into creating this photo. I really like the composition with the moon on the right-hand side too!”

Image by Zhipu Wang / APOTY