Winners: Our Solar System

Winner

 Australian Totality by Man-To Hui (China)

Corona Composite of 2012: Australian Totality by Man-To Hui (China)

14 November 2012

What the photographer says:

‘It took me two months to process all the images to achieve this relatively satisfactory corona-composite result. This is the longest image-processing work I have ever experienced. I did not push very hard to extract the very subtle details in the corona, but did slightly to reconstruct the view observed by the naked eye as vividly as I could. I spent a lot of time admiring the corona; it is beyond my description.’

Canon 50D camera; Canon 70–200mm f/4 lens at 200mm ; ISO 100; 81 x 1/500–4-second exposures

What it shows:

This image is a demonstration of both precision timing and rigorous post-processing. It gives the viewer a window onto the elusive outer atmosphere of the Sun – the corona. A natural dimming of the Sun’s blinding brightness, courtesy of the Moon, reveals the ghostly glow of gas that has a temperature of one million degrees Celsius. For centuries, total solar eclipses were the only way to study this hidden treasure of the Sun.

What the judges say:

Melanie Vandenbrouck says: ‘The delicate wisps of sunlight peering behind the silhouette of the Moon have a frailty that speaks of the unique beauty of our solar system.’

Runner-up

Magnetic Maelstrom by Alan Friedman (USA)

Magnetic Maelstrom by Alan Friedman (USA)

11 July 2012

What the photographer says:

‘This is a close-up of the central area of Active Region 1520 – true magnetic poetry on the Sun.’

Astro-Physics Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope; Astro-Physics 900 mount; 255mm lens; Point Grey Research Grasshopper2 camera

What it shows:

The darkest patches or umbrae in this image are each about the size of Earth, with the entire region of magnetic turmoil spanning the diameter of ten Earths. This image captures rich details directly around the sunspots and further out in the so-called ‘quiet’ Sun, where simmering hot plasma rises, cools and falls back. This produces a patchwork surface like a pot of boiling water but on an epic scale: each bubbling granule is about the size of France.

Highly-commended

Ring of Fire Sequence by Jia Hao (Singapore)

Ring of Fire Sequence by Jia Hao (Singapore)

9 May 2013

What the photographer says:

‘An annular eclipse can be boring if it happens when the Sun is high up in the sky. However, if the Sun is just on the horizon when eclipsed, the view can be as stunning as a total eclipse. I was blessed with crystal-clear skies on my expedition to Western Australia for the annular eclipse on 9 May. I managed to document the moment when the Sun rose as a golden horn, became a ring of fire and returned to an upside-down horn.’

Canon 5D Mark II camera; Canon 70–200mm f/4 lens plus 1.4x extender at f/5.6; ISO 200; 1/125–1/8000-second exposures

What it shows:

The Moon’s orbit around the Earth is not perfectly circular, so that at different times it can be slightly closer or further away than usual. If the Moon passes in front of the Sun when it is at its furthest point, it will appear to be too small entirely to cover the solar disc. This is an ‘annular eclipse’ in which a ring, or annulus, of the Sun remains visible. This composite shot shows the progress of an annular eclipse in May 2013. Close to the horizon the distorting effects of Earth’s atmosphere can also be seen.

Moon mosaic
The Moon is a wonderful object to photograph, with constant changes of view throughout the lunar cycle.
90 mm refractor telescope with astronomical CCD camera
Photographing a comet is a once-in-a-lifetime experience which can be achieved with relatively modest equipment.

Highly-commended

 Comet Lemmon, GC 47 Tucanae and the SMC by Ignacio Diaz Bobillo (Argentina)

Cosmic Alignment: Comet Lemmon, GC 47 Tucanae and the SMC by Ignacio Diaz Bobillo (Argentina)

16 February 2013

What the photographer says:

‘The opportunity to image a Solar-System object, a Milky-Way object and a neighbouring galaxy within a single frame does not come often. To take full advantage, I had to improvise a camera mounting-adapter to get the right framing.’

Canon 1000D camera; Vivitar 135 mm f/6.3 lens; ISO 800; 20 x 300-second exposures

What it shows:

These objects were all captured together providing the viewer with an amazing view of the Solar System, galaxy and Universe. Comet Lemmon only comes into our neighbourhood every 11,000 years, racing around the Sun and back out to the far reaches of the Solar System. The light from the globular cluster in the centre of this image takes over sixteen thousand years to reach Earth. The furthest object in the image is a dwarf galaxy called the Small Magellanic Cloud whose starlight takes two hundred thousand years to reach us.

Highly-commended

Saturn at Opposition by Damian Peach (UK)

Saturn at Opposition by Damian Peach (UK)

20 April 2013

What the photographer says:

‘This is Saturn close to opposition on 20 April 2013. It was taken from Mount Olympus in Cyprus at 1900 metres above sea level under near-perfect conditions. Despite Saturn being at only 38 degrees altitude, a very clear view of the planet was obtained showing many fine details within the rings and atmosphere.’

Celestron SCT telescope; Losmandy G-11 mount; ASI120MM camera; 356mm f/2.1 lens; stack of several thousand frames

What it shows:

This incredibly sharp portrait brilliantly captures the jewel of our solar system, revealing the subtle banding around the orb that results from the planet’s weather. It also shows the exquisite gradation of brightness and colour in the planet’s rings, with the ultra-faint inner ‘D-ring’ and outermost Encke gap clearly visible. The hexagonal storm at the North Pole – a scientific curiosity – shows off three of its angular kinks. Images with this much clarity challenge our ideas of what can be achieved with amateur telescopes.

Revealing the changing Sun

We visited Alan Friedman on location to understand the story behind his Our Solar System entry Magnetic Maelstrom.