Winners: Deep Space

Winner

 sh2–239 by Adam Block (USA)

Celestial Impasto: sh2–239 by Adam Block (USA)

10 November 2011

What the photographer says:

‘This is “impasto” on a celestial scale! Imagine the brush that could express the delicate wisps of dust and the opaque, cold, dark heart of this molecular cloud. Like a painter whose strokes leave behind a sense of motion and depth during the creation of an artwork, the star formation here seems to proceed quickly, as revealed by the rapid evaporation in the foreground. Soon even the deepest part of this cloud will yield to unstoppable forces and, as the dust is blown away, a young cluster of stars will shine.’

Schulman 0.8m telescope; EQ mount; STX (SBIG) 16803 camera; 15-hours total exposure

What it shows:

Structures like this often seem unchanging and timeless on the scale of a human lifetime. However, they are fleeting and transient on astronomical timescales. Over just a few thousand years the fierce radiation from the stars in this nebula will erode the surrounding clouds of dust and gas, radically altering its appearance.

What the judges say:

Pete Lawrence says: ‘There’s an ethereal quality to this image. The main bright nebula reminds me of a bullet-shaped spacecraft disintegrating, heading away from the viewer. Galactic dust has never looked so lovely. The pink filaments of the emission nebula are quite superb.’

Runner-up

Rho Ophiuchi and Antares Nebulae by Tom O’Donoghue (Ireland)

Rho Ophiuchi and Antares Nebulae by Tom O’Donoghue (Ireland)

2 July 2012

What the photographer says:

‘This is one of the objects I saw as a teenager in an astronomy magazine, which made me think that one day I would like to try and take photographs of the night sky. This object is too low in the sky to see from Ireland but was top of my imaging list from my location in Spain. I was able to capture approximately three hours of data each clear night. After taking 30 hours in 2011, the image was still too  “noisy”  owing to its low altitude in the sky, and some low-lying cloud. In 2012 I added another 30 hours to finish up with a five-frame mosaic, totalling 60 hours of exposures.’

Takahasi FSQ106N telescope; EM200 mount; Atik 11000 camera; 60-hours total exposure

What it shows:

The smoky appearance of the dust clouds in this image is fitting, since the grains of dust which make up the nebula are similar in size to particles of smoke here on Earth. The dust can reflect the light of nearby stars, as seen in the blue and yellow regions. It can also block and absorb the light of more distant stars, appearing brown and black in this image. To the right, a bright star is ionizing a cloud of hydrogen gas and causing it to glow red, while below it, far in the distance, is a globular cluster containing thousands of stars.

Highly commended

Omega Centauri by Ignacio Diaz Bobillo (Argentina)

Omega Centauri by Ignacio Diaz Bobillo (Argentina)

30 March 2012

What the photographer says:

‘This image was taken from my suburban backyard, on a night of particularly good viewing. The image was processed to enhance resolution and star colours.’

AP130GT telescope; Losmandy G11 mount; Canon 1000D camera; ISO 800; 42 x 180-second exposures

What it shows:

Omega Centauri is a globular cluster, a spherical cloud containing several million stars. As this image shows, the stars are more densely clustered towards the centre. The pronounced red colour of several of the stars gives away the cluster’s great age: it is thought to have been formed many billions of years ago. The cluster was first noted by the astronomer Ptolemy almost 2000 years ago and catalogued in 1677 by Edmond Halley (laterAstronomer Royal).

The Trifid Nebula
Long-exposure photography is the best way to see and capture colour views of our distant neighbourhood.

Highly commended

Floating Metropolis – NGC 253 by Michael Sidonio (Australia) 

Floating Metropolis – NGC 253 by Michael Sidonio (Australia)

13 October 2012

What the photographer says:

‘NGC 253 is often referred to as the Silver Dollar Galaxy. This deep image shows many bright regions and unusual streamers of stars, which rise vertically across the enormous stellar disc. The extensive, but very faint and rarely seen, outer galactic halo of stars is also evident. This was my first venture under dark rural skies with my telescope. Next time I would like to go even deeper to see if the halo extends further.’

Orion Optics AG12 305mm f/3.8 Newtonian telescope; Takahashi NJP mount; FLI
16803 CCD camera; 340-minutes total exposure

What it shows:

First discovered by astronomer Caroline Herschel in 1783, NGC 253 is a rare example of a ‘starburst galaxy’. Here new stars are being formed at many times the rate in our own galaxy, the Milky Way. Its mottled appearance comes from extensive lanes of dust which thread through the galactic disc. These are studded with many red clouds of ionized hydrogen gas, marking the sites where new stars are being born.

Highly commended

M81–82 and Integrated Flux Nebula by Ivan Eder (Hungary) 

M81–82 and Integrated Flux Nebula by Ivan Eder (Hungary)

February 2013

What the photographer says:

‘It took nearly 30 hours of total exposure time to record this faint integrated-flux (IF) nebula. The data was collected over three seasons, in 2009, 2011 and 2012. The majority of the exposures were taken in March 2012 over three nights. Note the star-forming regions in Holmberg IX, and the large blue giant stars (or clusters) forming faint and interesting outer arms of M81.’

300/1130 Newtonian (self-made) telescope; Fornax 51 mount; Canon 5D Mark II
(self-modified) camera; ISO 1600; 309 x 5-minute exposures

What it shows:

Lying at a distance of twelve million light years from Earth, M81 and M82 are galaxies with a difference. Close encounters between the two objects have forced gas down into their central regions. In M81 this influx of gas is being devoured by a supermassive black hole. In neighbouring M82 the gas is fuelling a burst of new star formation, which in turn is blasting clouds of hydrogen (shown in red) back out into space.