Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2011

By MSN UK News Ole C. Salomonsen (Norway)
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Stunning new images of space revealed

A dazzling collection of new images have won awards in the 2011 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. The contest is run by the Royal Observatory Greenwich and Sky at Night Magazine. This picture shows a display of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, taken over ponds near Hillesøy in Norway on 11 March 2011. Ole C. Salomonsen's picture was named the runner-up in the Earth and Space category.

Marco Lorenzi (Italy)
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Vela Supernova remnant

This photo shows the intricate structure of the aftermath of a supernova explosion: the violent death of a star many times more massive than the sun which took place over 10,000 years ago. Seen against stars and gas in the disc of our Milky Way, this expanding shell of debris and heated gas now covers an area of the sky which is twenty times bigger than the disc of the full moon. Marco Lorenzi won the Deep Space category with this picture.

Damian Peach (UK)
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Jupiter with Io and Ganymede

Jupiter is depicted here along with two of its 64 known moons, Io and Ganymede, showing the surface of the gas giant streaked with colourful bands and dotted with huge oval storms; detail is also visible on the two moons. The photos which make up this composite image were taken from Barbados where the excellent atmospheric clarity allows for exceptionally clear astronomical pictures. Damian Peach's picture, taken in September 2010, was the overall winner in the Our Solar System category.

Dani Caxete (Spain)
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ISS and Endeavour Crossing the sun

This perfectly timed photograph captures a silhouette of the International Space Station (ISS) and docked space shuttle Endeavour as they passed in front of the sun in less than half a second on 21 May 2011. Features of the sun's photosphere can also be seen, including a grainy texture resulting from the bubbling motion of gas at 6,000 degrees Celsius, and a sun spot to the left of the ISS which contains cooler gas and is caused by intense magnetic activity. Dani Caxete's photo was named highly commended in the Our Solar System category.

Michael Sidonio (Australia)
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Fighting Dragons of Ara (NGC 6188 and 6164)

This picture shows clouds of swirling purple, green and orange gas and dust that appear as "fighting dragons", shaped by the recent birth of large stars much bigger and brighter than our sun. One such star can be seen to the lower left of the image within two shells of glowing gas. The image gives a snapshot of the chaotic stellar nurseries in which stars are born. Our own sun probably formed in similar circumstances 4.5 billion years ago. Michael Sidonio was named highly commended in the Deep Space category for this photograph.

George Tarsoudis (Greece)
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The moon's Crater Petavius

The moon's Crater Petavius seen to the lower right of the photograph is almost 200 kilometres wide and over three kilometres deep, with a central peak reaching nearly two kilometres from the crater floor. The moon's many craters have been formed by meteorites, asteroids and comets which have crashed into the lunar surface over billions of years. George Tarsoudis' photograph, taken on 8 February 2011, was named highly commended in the Our Solar System category.

Harley Grady (USA)
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Zodiacal Light on the farm

This picture shows the glow of Zodiacal Light reaching into the sky above a barn in Comanche, Texas. Visible only in extremely dark skies, Zodiacal Light results from sunlight reflecting off dust particles in our solar system; capturing its faint signature is a great achievement for a novice astrophotographer. Two satellites are also visible to the left of the shot. Harley Grady won the Best Newcomer category with this photograph.

Jathin Premjith (India, age 15)
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Lunar eclipse and occultation

This picture shows this summer's lunar eclipse, which took place on 15 June 2011. Here the moon is a red colour because it is lit by sunlight which has been filtered through the Earth's atmosphere. The photograph skilfully captures a second fleeting astronomical event, the moment a star appears from behind the orbiting moon. Jathin Premjith was named Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year for this picture.

Jessica Caterson (UK, age 15)
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Winter's moon

The nearly full moon (called a waxing gibbous moon) is seen here rising in the east on a crisp winter's afternoon on 18 December 2010. While the moon is most evident in the night sky, it is also visible during the daytime for much of its monthly orbit around the Earth. Jessica Caterson's photo was highly commended in the Young Astronomer of the Year category.

Marco Lorenzi (Italy)
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Shell galaxies (NGC474 and NGC467)

Three distant galaxies located in the constellation of Pisces. In the upper left of this photograph, faint billowing shapes can be seen in the outer regions of an elliptical galaxy. Elliptical galaxies, which can contain up to a trillion stars, are typically smooth and shaped like a rugby ball. The delicate wispy shells surrounding this galaxy may result from a gravitational interaction with the nearby spiral galaxy to the right which has disturbed the orbits of its outermost stars. Marco Lorenzi won the Robotic Telescope category with this photograph.

Mike Kempsey
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Meteor at midnight

A meteor captured streaking across the sky by Glastonbury Tor in Somerset on 12 August 2010 at the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower. The Perseids is one of the most prolific showers, often with around 80 meteors an hour during its peak. Nevertheless, meteors are hard to catch on camera: the photographer has used a continuous shooting mode so that the camera was photographing non-stop in order to catch this fleeting image. Mike Kempsey was highly commended in the Earth and Space category for this picture.

Edward Henry (USA)
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The Leo Triplet

The Leo Triplet - a group of three spiral galaxies located thirty-five million light years away - was photographed by Edward Henry on 4 April 2011. They are disc-like galaxies like our own Milky Way, containing billions of stars with bright knots of gas and dark dusty lanes which trace spiral patterns where new stars are formed. The galaxy on the left is seen edge-on, much as we view our own galaxy, the Milky Way.
Mr Henry's picture was named runner-up in the Deep Space category.

Nicole Sullivan (USA, age 15)
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Starry night sky

Star trails above the Sierra Nevada mountain range on 30 June 2011. The long exposure captures how the stars appear to circle the Pole Star as the Earth rotates on its axis. Nicole Sullivan was named a runner-up in the Young Astronomer of the Year category for this picture.

Örvar Atli Þorgeirsson
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Volcanic aurora

A shimmering aurora, resulting from magnetic activity on the sun, provides aspectacular background to a dramatic eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. A dark cloud of ash at ground level can be seen to the left in this photograph, while there is bright red lava at the mouth of the volcano. The eruption caused substantial disruption to international travel in the spring of 2010. Örvar Atli Þorgeirsson was highly commended in the Earth and Space category for this photograph.

Rogelio Bernal Andreo (USA)
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Orion, head to toe

The bright stars of the Orion constellation seen within a skyscape of fainter stars, gas and dust, which is invisible to the naked eye. Orion is laid out from left to right in this photograph while a huge cloud of gas and dust in which new stars are forming lies below the three stars of Orion's belt; bright red and blue supergiant stars mark his shoulder and knee. The long exposure time and use of special filters allows us to see the hidden beauty behind this familiar constellation. Rogelio Bernal Andreo was highly commended in the Deep Space category for this picture.

Steve Crouch
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Planetary Nebula Shapley 1

Planetary nebulae, Shapley 1, photographed on 28 May 2011. When viewed through a small telescope planetary nebulae resemble nearby planets in our Solar System, but they are in fact distant regions of hot, glowing gas ejected by stars as they run out of fuel at the end of their lives. The colours visible in the ring are caused by the temperature and chemical composition of the material this dying star has returned to its environment. Steve Crouch won a highly commended in the Deep Space category for this photograph.

Tunç Tezel (Turkey)
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Galactic paradise

The southern Milky Way viewed over the hilltops lined with palm trees just outside the village of Oneroa on the coast of Mangaia in the Cook Islands, 11 July 2010. The Milky Way galaxy contains hundreds of billions of stars in a disc-like structure and this Southern Hemisphere view highlights dark clouds of dust that aboriginal Australian astronomers called the "Emu in the sky". The panorama was made using nine 30-second exposures and the humidity and moisture created the diffusion and colour effects on the stars. Tunç Tezel's picture won the Earth and Space category.