I was surprised, but delighted, to receive an invitation to attend the the award ceremony for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2013 held at the Royal Observatory Greenwich last night. Every year people from around the world submit spectacular images of the skies to this competition and this year was no different.
I arrived at ROG early and soon discovered I was classed as "press". I'm not sure what difference that made but it did mean I was sat next to Jane Fletcher (Producer of The Sky At Night) in the middle of the planetarium which made me feel far more important than I am. After some introductory speeches, Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Marek Kukula acted as our hosts in an Oscar-style ceremony with each of the category nominees appearing on the dome of the planetarium. Maggie and Marek described each of finalists in turn, giving some of the reasons those had particularly caught the eyes of the judges. Sometimes it was due to the physics being shown (e.g. the multiple Moon-bows in this shot) but in other cases it was the sheer artistic qualities they evoked.
There were four main categories which were 'Earth and Space', 'Our Solar System', 'Deep Space', and 'Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year'. These each had several highly commended images, a runner-up and a winner. There were also three special categories: 'People and Space’, ‘Robotic Scope’ and the ‘Sir Patrick Moore Prize for Best Newcomer'. All of the finalists are stunning.
Guiding Light to the Stars CREDIT: Mark Gee (Australia)
The overall winner was the winner of the Earth and Space category which showed a beautiful image of the Milky Way appearing to emanate from a New Zealand lighthouse by Mark Gee. Mark lives in NZ so couldn't be there himself but his sister lives in London so she collected it on his behalf. I was chatting to her during the reception afterwards and she said Mark didn't yet know he'd won because it was still early morning in NZ. Hopefully he woke up to some great messages.
I feel a special mention should go to the Young Astronomy Photographers who were all 15 years old or younger. They produced some fantastic shots. The runner-up was only 10 years old! Congratulations to all those who got short-listed.
Not many of the short-listed photographs were taken from the UK. This is in part due to the truly international element of the competition but our light pollution and clouds don't make it easy either. Having said that, our Earthly weather can help make a dramatic shot as shown by the winner of the Best Newcomer prize which was a great shot of the transit of Venus as seen through cloud.
The photographs (including plenty more breathtaking entrants) can be seen in the Flickr group or in a special exhibition at the Royal Observatory Greenwich until 23rd February 2014. If you feel inspired you may want to start planning your own shots for next year's competition.