hero_Winner_California Dreamin' NGC 1499 © Terry Hancock

Winners of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year in pictures

Royal Observatory Greenwich announces the winners of Astronomy Photographer of the Year 13.

Photographer Shuchang Dong has just been announced as the Overall Winner of the Royal Observatory Greenwich’s title Astronomy Photographer of the Year 13, with his astounding image of the annular solar eclipse, ‘The Golden Ring’.

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The beauty of simplicity and the technical excellence of Dong’s image spellbound the judges. The photograph depicts the annular solar eclipse that occurred on 21 June 2020 in a powerful and atmospheric composition. Competition judge László Francsics said: “Perfection and simplicity… lead to a winner image. A true masterpiece.”

Winning images from other categories and special prizes include the mesmerising Aurora dance taken from the bridge of a ship by the Third Officer Dmitrii Rybalka (Russia), Venus rising over the rocky horizon of the Moon by Nicolas Lefaudeux (France), a poignant star trail image taken during lockdown by Deepal Ratnayaka (UK), and the outstanding image of the Space X Falcon 9 rocket passing the Moon by Paul Eckhardt (USA).

15-year-old Zhipu Wang (China) is taking home the top prize in the Young Competition category for his astonishing composition of the Sun, the Moon and the planets of the Solar System.

BBC Sky at Night Magazine’s Art Editor Steve Marsh, who is also a judge for the competition, said of this year’s contest: “The incredibly talented global community of astronomers has once again shown us just what they are capable of. From stunning new takes on our own Solar System to new views of our Galaxy and the wider Universe and poignant reflections of our place in the cosmos.”

An exhibition of winning photographs opening at the National Maritime Museum on 18 September 2021. Take a look through some of the fabulous winning images in our special gallery:

Overall winner

Photo by Shuchang Dong
On 21 June 2020 there was an annular solar eclipse and the photographer made sure not to miss it. He decided to go to Ali in Tibet to shoot it because it has year-round sunny weather. However, during the annular eclipse, there were dark clouds all over the sky. The anticipation was high but within a minute of the annular eclipse, the sunshine pierced through the clouds and the photographer was lucky to capture that moment. Afterwards the Sun disappeared again. Photo by Shuchang Dong/Astronomy Photographer of the Year

Check out our 2021 solar eclipse gallery here.

Aurora category winner

Photo by Dmitrii Rybalka
As Third Officer, the photographer was keeping watch that night on the bridge of the ship when he noticed in the sky a tiny white band approaching like a snake. He had a feeling that there was something in the air, that something great would happen and instantly knew that this was what he was waiting for. He took his camera, went to the bridge wing, took position and started waiting. A few minutes later, the sky was full of bright green lights dancing in darkness and shining over everything on their way. Photograph taken on the approach to the Kara Strait, Russia, 30 November 2020. Photo by Dmitrii Rybalka/Astronomy Photographer of the Year

People and space category winner

Winner_Lockdown © Deepal Ratnayaka
With the UK being in full lockdown and travel restricted for many months due to the pandemic, astrophotography became the photographer’s focus. This photo sums up the year 2020, cramped but hopeful. The photographer’s six-year-old daughter, who is always very interested in the photoshoots, was around during the set up. Sat by the door, she was showing the stars appearing one by one in the sky to her soft toy Max, and this gave the photographer the perfect opportunity to get her in the frame which complimented the message behind the photo. Photographed at Windsor, Berkshire, UK, 20 & 21 January 2021Photo by Deepal Ratnayaka/Astronomy Photographer of the Year

Stars and nebulae category winner

Photo by Terry Hancock/Astronomy Photographer of the Year
The California Nebula, otherwise known as NGC 1499, was captured over seven nights in 2021 using broadband and narrowband filters, with a total integration time of 16.1 hours. This emission nebula is around 100 light-years long and 1,000 light years away from Earth. It is named California Nebula because it appears to resemble the outline of the US State of California. The raw data was pre-processed and the stars were removed using a tool called Starnet, then later replaced during post-processing with the more naturally coloured stars from the RGB (red, green, blue) data. While the colours in this image are not the true colours, the narrowband filters reveal much more of the hidden gasses not visible in a broadband image. Photographed at Whitewater, Colorado, USA, 16–31 January, 6 and 28 February, 2 March 2021Photo by Terry Hancock/Astronomy Photographer of the Year

Skyscapes category winner

Photo by Jeffrey Lovelace
The smouldering crescent Moon floats in an ocean blue atmosphere above quiet, glowing dunes of sand and the red of the sunset has faded into the blue twilight. The photographer hiked deep into the dunes and eventually found the foreground he had imagined for this shot. Once everything was assembled, he looked up and there hung a shining sliver of a crescent moon outlining its dark but visible face. This HDR/perspective blend integrates four images, all shot that evening with the same lens, and from the same tripod location. The images were combined in Photoshop and together they effectively replicate the sublime scene the photographer witnessed that evening. Photographed at Death Valley National Park, California, USA, 25 February 2020Photo by Jeffrey Lovelace/Astronomy Photographer of the Year

Galaxies category winner

Made from 10 light frames by Starry Landscape Stacker 1.8.0. Algorithm: Mean Min Hor Star Dupe
An expanse of cosmic dust, stars and nebulae along the plane of the Milky Way galaxy form a magnificent ring in this image. The panorama covers the entire galaxy visible from planet Earth. It is an ambitious 360° mosaic that took the photographer two years to complete. Northern hemisphere sites in China and southern hemisphere sites in New Zealand were used to collect the image data. Like a glowing jewel set in the Milky Way ring, the bulge of the galactic centre is at the very top. The bright planet Jupiter is the beacon just above the central bulge and to the left of the red giant star Antares. Along the plane and almost 180° from the galactic centre at the bottom of the ring is the area around Orion. The ring of the Milky Way encompasses two notable galaxies in the southern skies, the Magellanic Clouds. Photographed at Sichuan, Qinghai, China, and  Lake Pukaki, New Zealand, January to February 2020 and August 2020–January 2021. Photo by Zhong Wu/Astronomy Photographer of the Year

Annie Maunder Prize for Image Innovation Joint winner

Photo by Sergio Diaz Ruiz
High clouds on Jupiter create intricate and beautiful shapes that swirl all over the planet. In order to get a colour image when there are only three colour channels (red, green, blue), some sort of filter-to-channel mapping must be done. PixInsight was used for the rest of the processing: custom white balance, deconvolution and wavelet transformation for detail enhancement, contrast and saturation curves. The areas corresponding to the poles were too bright and distracting so they were darkened by colour masking. Photo by Sergio Diaz Ruiz/Astronomy Photographer of the Year

Annie Maunder Prize for Image Innovation Joint winner

Photo by Leonardo Di Maggio
The Cassini missions brought back some astounding imagery of our Solar System. The photographer used a selection of the CICLOPS team’s photographs of Saturn to create this piece. The patterns formed by Saturn, its rings and its moons are truly magnificent. The photographs have echoes of architecture, nature, art and design, and are just as artistically inspirational as they are crucial for scientific study. The photographer edited several spectacular images before ordering the photographs into a grid pattern and assembled them in this particular way to have remnants of familiar and stable imagery, but in a fractured and disrupted way with undertones of science fiction symbolism. Photo by Leonardo Di Maggio/Astronomy Photographer of the Year

Check out some more of our great image galleries:

Overall youth category winner

Photo by /
This is an image of the Sun, the Moon and the planets of the Solar System (except Earth) taken during the year of the rat in China. In this special year, the photographer felt very lucky to produce the images of these celestial bodies and for a student who has only practiced astrophotography for one year it was a great accomplishment. Photographed at Yongtai, Fujian, China, 14 August 2020 to 21 January 2021Photo by Zhipu Wang/Astronomy Photographer of the Year

The Manju Mehrotra Family Trust prize for best newcomer category winner

Photo by Paul Eckhardt
Four hours before the Falcon 9 launch, the photographer downloaded the Photo Pills app, subscribed to flightclub.io and started an intensive research to understand both applications and pinpoint a location where the flight arc would overlap the Moon. When the photographer arrived at the launch location, he was blocked by a gate and ended up on a different dark road with trees blocking the launch pad. After making a quick calculation, he parked and ran a hundred feet in the dark and then the sky lit up as Falcon 9 soared straight up, tilted over, and aimed right at the Moon. Photographed at Titusville, Florida, USA, 4 February 2021Photo by Paul Eckhardt/Astronomy Photographer of the Year

Our Moon category winner

Photo by Nicolas Lefaudeux/
In a perspective reminiscent of the Apollo missions, the lunar horizon is crowned with a planet crescent. However, this is not Earth rising above the Moon captured by a probe orbiting our satellite, but Venus just before it gets occulted by the Moon, as observed from Earth in daylight on 19 June 2020. The rocky horizon of the Moon appears very dark in contrast with the gleaming crescent of the planet enshrouded by white clouds. Photographed at Forges-les-Bains, Île-de-France, France, 19 June 2020Photo by Nicolas Lefaudeux/Astronomy Photographer of the Year

Planets, comets and asteroids category winner

Photo by Frank Kuszaj/
The photographer was shooting with two other friends on that cold January evening. They weren’t planning to capture meteors but distant galaxies and nebulas. After setting up the camera to shoot the Leo Triplet galaxies, the photographer and his friends saw a bright green meteor burning right before their eyes as it tore through Earth’s atmosphere. They were all in awe of witnessing a fireball meteor. After they caught their breath, one of the friends mentioned that the photographer’s camera was pointing in the comet’s direction, but the photographer thought there was no way he could have caught it as he had zoomed all the way in. Once he checked his camera there it was, perfectly framed. The photographer had made a mistake and the lens wasn’t zoomed in, making the perfect composition for the meteor. This incredible image was a happy accident. Photographed at Cook Station, Missouri, USA, 19 January 2021Photo by Frank Kuszaj/Astronomy Photographer of the Year

Check out some more of our great galleries:

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