The winning images for the Special Prizes category of the 2012 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition.

In addition to the four main competition categories, the judges also awarded three special prizes: these were for ‘Best Newcomer’ – for photos taken by people who had recently taken up the hobby and not entered an image into the competition before; ‘People and Space’ – for photos that include people in a creative and original way; and ‘Robotic Scope’ – for images that have been taken by robotic or remote telescopes and then processed by the entrant.

Best Newcomer winner, Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2012

The winner for the Best Newcomer category was Lóránd Fényes (Hungary), who used a GSO-Orion 200/800 telescope, a SkyWatcher HEQ5 mount and a Canon 1000D camera to take his ‘Elephant’s Trunk with Ananas’ shot.

The tip of the Elephant’s Trunk nebula is curled around a cavity carved out by the radiation produced by young stars. ‘This is such an evocative image,’ our judge Marek Kukula said. ‘There’s something quite ominous about the towering column of dust and gas.’

People and Space winner, Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2012

Winner of the People and Space category was Laurent Laveder (France). Laveder’s ‘Venus-Jupiter Close Conjunction’ was taken with a Canon 5D Mark II camera using a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lens at f/2.0.

The image shows the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, when the two bright planets appeared conspicuously close together in the sky. Their apparent closeness was an optical illusion – Jupiter was in fact millions of kilometres further away than Venus.

Robotic Scope winner, Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2012

The 2012 Robotic Scope winner was 12-year-old Thomas Read (UK). The young astrophotographer used a Bradford Robotic Telescope online, and a Galaxy telescope in Tenerife, in Spain’s Canary Islands, to take his beguiling photo of ‘The Sunflower Galaxy’.

Messier 63, a spiral system like the Milky Way, has arms that encircle the yellowish centre of the galaxy like the petals of a flower – which is why it has earned the nickname of the Sunflower Galaxy.

People and Space runner-up, Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2012

Runner-up for the 2012 People and Space category was Steven Christenson (USA), whose ‘Lost in Yosemite [C 033706]’ shows two tiny figures in the Californian national park, beneath an immense dome of the sky. The picture – taken with a Canon 5D Mark II camera – captures the wonder, beauty and awe of astronomy.

Judge Olivia Johnson said of Christenson’s work: ‘I love this photo because it illustrates how humbling, even frightening, both the natural world and the cold depths of space can be for us as tiny, fragile human beings.’

Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition

The Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition is an annual global search for the most beautiful and spectacular visions of the cosmos by amateur and professional astrophotographers. The winning images are showcased in a stunning exhibition at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

Visit the IAPY 2015 exhibition