A rare photograph showing Comet Leonard’s gas tail as it passes by Earth for its only ever appearance has been announced as the winner of the latest Astronomy Photographer of the Year Competition.


The image, titled Disconnection Event, was taken by Gerald Rhemann and shows the tail of a comet being torn away by a powerful solar wind.

“Astronomy, myth and art come together beautifully in this shot. It holds great value to scientists, as it elegantly captures a disconnection event,” said Imad Ahmed, a member of the judging panel of this year’s competition, and director of the New Crescent Society.

“Yet this photograph, which was taken on Christmas Day, seems to tell an otherworldly story too – it could be the Star of Bethlehem, an angel or a fairy soaring through the night sky.”

The Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year award was won by two fourteen-year-old boys from China. Yang Hanwen and Zhou Zezhen collaborated to capture Andromeda Galaxy: The Neighbour, a photograph of one of the Milky Way’s closest and largest neighbours.

The competition is run by the Royal Observatory Greenwich, in association with BBC Sky at Night Magazine, and is now in its 14th year.

The winning image will be on display alongside the winners of the other categories in the accompanying exhibition, opening at the National Maritime Museum in London, UK, on 17 September 2022.

Overall winner

Comet Leonard’s gas tail carried away by the solar wind
Comet Leonard was discovered by G J Leonard on 3 January 2021. It made its closest pass on 12 December 2021, and having left the Solar System, won’t be seen from Earth again. On 25 December 2021, a dramatic tail disconnection event happened. A piece of Comet Leonard’s tail was pinched off and carried away by the solar wind, as can be seen in this dramatic image. Photographed at Tivoli Southern Sky Guest Farm, Khomas, Namibia, on 25 December 2021. Photo by Gerald Rhemann/APOTY

Winner - Our Sun category

The Sun imaged over a year and combined into one image
An image of the Sun, combined from images taken every day between 25 December 2020 and 31 December 2021 (missing just 6 days during this period). After a year, the images were blended to create a single shot. The sunspots create two bands on the solar disc, around 15–35 degrees north and south of the equator and gradually start drifting towards it (a phenomenon known as Spörer’s law). Photographed in Kolkata, West Bengal, India. Photo by Soumyadeep Mukherjee/APOTY

Winner - Stars and nebulae

Eye of god nebula in bright colours
This ultra-deep exposure of the ‘Eye of God' (also known as the Helix Nebula, or NGC 7293), reveals the glorious colours of the core and rarely seen surrounding details. Photographed at Chilescope, Río Hurtado, Coquimbo Region, Chile, on 8 August 2021. Photo by Weitang Liang/APOTY

Winner - People and space category

ISS passes in front of the Moon
This image features the International Space Station (ISS) positioned directly over the Apollo 11 Moon-landing site on the Sea of Tranquility. The moment only lasted milliseconds and required precise positioning to capture the pass at the perfect time. Photographed in Florence, Arizona, USA, on 19 January 2022. Photo by Andrew McCarthy/APOTY

Winner - Young astronomer of the year

The Andromeda Galaxy showing its rings
The Andromeda Galaxy, or Messier 31, is one of the closest and largest neighbours of the Milky Way. M31 is also the most distant object the human eye can see. When you look at it with the naked eye it’s like a fog, but through the telescope it shows its magnificence. Photographed in Heishicheng, Kangding, Sichuan, China, on 21 February 2021. Photo by Yang Hanwen/Zhou Zezhen/APOTY

Winner - The Annie Maunder prize for digital innovation

Images of the Sun layered to create concentric rings
Multiple images of the Sun from the first part of the Solar Cycle have been layered to create concentric rings in this unusual and original composition. The oldest ring lies in the centre while the most recent sits furthest away. Month by month, the rings grow like the rings of a tree. The overall image is a marking of the passing of time, which incorporates visual evidence of increasing levels of solar activity apparent in the dark markings of solar flares. Photo by Pauline Woolley/Solar Dynamic Observatory/APOTY

Winner - The Patrick Moore prize for best newcomer

Milky Way pictured above a snowy mountain range
The Milky Way rises above the Minya Konka Mountain, the highest peak in Sichuan, China, in the early hours of the morning of 21 February 2021. Photo by Lun Deng/APOTY

Winner - Our Moon category

Plato Crater on the Moon
Once a month the Sun rises over the giant lunar crater Plato and casts huge shadows from its east rim across its lava-filled floor. Occasionally this event coincides with a night of good visibility. The night of 20 April 2021 was one such rare night, with steady skies and the Moon high overhead, the dark, projected rim-profile was visible in exquisite detail. Photographed in St Albans, Hertfordshire, UK, on 20 April 2021. Photo by Martin Lewis/APOTY

Winner - Skyscapes category

Star trails above the Tibetan mountains
Namcha Barwa is one of the most beautiful snow-capped mountains in China. The name of the mountain in Tibetan means ‘spear thrusting into the sky’. This untouched land is also home to the purest of starry skies, the trails of which weave a wide net even on full Moon days. Photographed in Nyingchi, Tibet, China, on 24 December 2021. Photo by Zihui Hu/APOTY

Winner - Galaxies category

View of the distant Sombero Galaxy
This image shows the faint star streams that were created when a smaller galaxy collided with, and its remnants then began to orbit, the Milky Way. Three versions of this photograph were made: a muted version for the background, a regular version for the disc and a super-stretched starless version for the stellar streams and halo. They were then combined into a single image. Photographed at Pie Town, New Mexico, USA, on 5 May 2021. Photo by Utkarsh Mishra/Michael Petrasko/Muir Evenden/APOTY

Winner - Aurorae category

Aurora over Hvalnes Iceland
The Northern Lights are one of the most interesting natural phenomena. Although they are usually witnessed in the winter months, this photograph was taken during the late spring. It shows the dancing Aurora Borealis, reflected in a little frozen lake above the Eystrahorn mountain, Hvalnes, Iceland, on 10 April 2021. Photo by Filip Hrebenda/APOTY

More images from Science Focus:


Runner-up - Planets, comets and asteroids category

Jupiter and three moons
Here, Jupiter can be seen alongside three of the planet’s largest moons. The famous Great Red Spot is clearly visible on Jupiter itself, along with many other spots and storms. Similar details are also evident on all three of the Jovian moons. The bright ray crater Osiris can be seen on the moon Ganymede at the upper left. Photographed at El Sauce Observatory, Río Hurtado, Coquimbo, Chile, on 5 August 2021. Photo by Damian Peach/APOTY

Runner-up - Stars and nebulae

The Flaming star nebula
The Flaming Star Nebula (IC 405, SH 2-229 or Caldwell 31) is an emission and reflection nebula in the constellation Auriga. It lies about 1,500 light years from Earth and is about 5 light years across. Photographed in Fareham, Hampshire, UK, on 22 February 2022. Photo by Martin Cohen/APOTY

Runner-up - Galaxies category

The Arp 271 Galaxy
NGC 5426 and NGC 5427 are two spiral galaxies of similar size engaged in a major interaction. Known collectively as Arp 271, the interaction is expected to continue for tens of millions of years. Photographed at El Sauce Observatory, Hurtado, Coquimbo Region, Chile, between 3 June 2021 and 1 January 2022. Photo by Mark Hanson/Mike Selby/APOTY

Runner-up - People and space category

Building that resembles a spaceship on the Buzludzha mountains of Bulgaria
Built between 1974 and 1981, this spaceship-like structure was designed by Georgi Stoilov and involved the removal of more than 15,000 cubic metres of rock from the peak of Buzludzha, reducing the mountain’s height by 9 metres. Although the building is now closed to the public, its space-age silhouette is the perfect complement for dramatic images of the night sky. Photographed at Buzludzha, Balkan Mountains, Stara Zagora Province, Bulgaria, on 12 August 2021. Photo by Mihail Minkov/APOTY

Runner-up - Our Sun category

Close up of the surface of the Sun
The Sun looks different every time astrophotographers capture an image as new sunspots form, grow and eventually fade away. The photographer selectively filtered out all wavelengths of light except a narrow red band (known as the H-alphaline) to reveal an active region of change of the Sun in this detailed image. Photographed in Preston, Lancashire, UK, on 19 December 2021. Photo by Stuart Green/APOTY

Runner-up - Skyscapes category

Salt flats with the Milky Way above
Some of the most exquisite locations in Death Valley National Park are the salt flats at Badwater Basin. Located 86 metres below sea level, the basin is the lowest point in North America. Every winter brings new rainwater to the flats and the continuous freeze-thaw-evaporate process creates these hexagonal patterns in the mud. Photographed at Death Valley, California, USA, on 2 September 2021. Photo by Abhijit Patil/APOTY

Runner-up - Our Moon category

Detail image of the crescent Moon
This is a mosaic of the crescent Moon, made up of 32 separate images. In this image you can see the most famous craters, rims, mountains, domes and seas of this lunar phase. Photographed at Porto Mantovano, Lombardy, Italy, on 19 January 2021. Photo by Andrea Vanoni/APOTY

Runner-up - Aurorae category

Aurora over the Cameron River at night
This photo, captured over Cameron River in Canada’s Northwest Territories, shows the differentiation between the aurora and the dark sky. Photographed near Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, on 1 September 2021. Photo by Fred Bailey/APOTY


James CutmorePicture Editor, BBC Science Focus

James Cutmore is the picture editor of BBC Science Focus Magazine, researching striking images for the magazine and on the website. He is also has a passion for taking his own photographs