The Year’s Best Astronomy Photography

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Each year the Royal Observatory awards the best examples of astronomical photography in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. Awards are given in six categories: Earth and Space, People and Space, Our Solar System, Deep Space, Young Astronomy Photographer, and Best Newcomer. All of this year’s winning photos are currently on display at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, UK until February 2011. Preview some of our favorites after the jump.

Blazing Bristlecone by Tom Lowe (USA)

Interestingly, the winner of this year’s grand prize attributes a major part of his shot to an accident. “The light on that tree occurred accidentally because I had my headlamp and possibly a camping lantern on while I was taking a series of test shots!” Lowe explains. This is Earth’s view of the Milky Way, looking at the center of it from 26,000 light years away.

Whisper of the Wind by Dave Brosha (Canada)

This photo was good enough for runner-up in the Earth and Space category, behind the grand-prize winning shot from Tom Lowe. Brosha snapped it “on a bitterly cold night” along the shores of Vee Lake in the Northwest Territories.

Siberian Totality by Anthony Ayiomamitis (Greece)

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes in front of the sun, revealing the sun’s corona — or outer atmosphere. Pete Lawrence, one the judges for the competition, notes that Ayiomamitis “delivers a view similar to what would be seen with the human eye” — which isn’t easy to do with camera. For his efforts Anthony won the Our Solar System category.

Orion Deep Wide Field by Rogelio Bernal Andreo (USA)

As you may have guessed from the title, the three bright stars on the left side of this image make up Orion’s Belt. One of the reasons Andreo loves this image is that “it includes a feature easily recognizable even from light-polluted skies (Orion’s belt), so anyone can ‘place’ this image in the sky.” The photo also includes the Horsehead Nebula (bottom center) and the Orion Nebula (top right). It won top prize in the Deep Space category.

A Perfect Circle by Dhruv Arvind Paranjpye (India)

Dhruv Arvind Paranjpye, a 14-year-old from India, won the Young Astronomy Photographer category this year with A Perfect Circle. The image features what’s called an annular eclipse, which occurs when the moon is far enough from the earth that it doesn’t completely block out the sun, leaving a white ring on sun around the black moon.

Photon Worshippers by Steven Christenson (USA)

This nicely-titled photograph was shot on Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur, California, where for a few days each year, the setting sun nestles nicely into a natural rock. The photo won this year’s People and Space category.

Sinus Iridum by Nick Smith (UK)

This is a close-up shot of our moon, specifically Sinus Iridum, aka the “Bay of Rainbows.” The smooth valley floor is lava that cooled billions of years ago, however not old enough to be marked by craters, like the surrounding mountains.

Primal Wonder by Larry Andreaen (USA)

This is a nighttime photograph of a forest fire on Yakima Nation Lands, on Mount Adams in Washington State. Thankfully it was a controlled fire. Due in part to the wonderful lighting, it’s difficult to tell where the smoke from the fire becomes the Milky Way.

The Veil Nebula in Cygnus by Martin Pugh (UK/Australia)

The Veil Nebula is the aftermath of a supernova explosion, or in Pugh’s words, “an intergalactic jellyfish.” The nebula was created when a star much larger than our sun exploded.

Solstice Full Moon over Sounion by Anthony Ayiomamitis (Greece)

Greek photographer Anthony Ayiomamitis says that he’s been fascinated with “the aura of Ancient Greece” since his childhood. In this shot he captures a “breathtaking moment involving our 4.5-billion-year-old celestial neighbor and the 2500-year-old temple.” The two objects align at the Summer Solstice.

For more dazzling photos of space you can check out our coverage of last year’s contest.