Skip to main content

'Geyser' aurora and 'cosmic bat' nebula shortlisted for astronomy photo prize

This shot shows Iceland's famous geyser, the Great Geysir, preparing to blow, with the aurora behind it.
This shot shows Iceland's famous geyser, the Great Geysir, preparing to blow, with the aurora behind it.
(Image: © Copyright Phil Halper)

Glowing Arctic lights sweep across darkened Icelandic skies; colorful puffs of dust and gas form a spectral batlike shape in a far-off nebula; craters on the lunar surface yawn and gape, their rocky texture captured in astonishing detail.

These and other remarkable views of cosmic phenomena were shortlisted by judges for the Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2020 contest, organizers with the Royal Observatory Greenwich in London announced Monday (July 13).

Amateur and professional space photographers from nearly 70 countries submitted more than 5,200 entries to this year's contest, which is the largest international competition of its kind, representatives announced in a statement.

Related: Spaced out! 101 astronomy images that will blow your mind

Photos that made the shortlist show active regions on the sun's surface; the aftermath of stellar explosions; star trails over a desert landscape; and tiny Saturn peeking out from behind the pitted face of our moon, to name just a few.

From the shortlisted photos, judges will select one overall winner. Prizes will also be awarded for the top photos in nine categories: Aurorae; People and Space; Our Sun; Our Moon; Planets, Comets and Asteroids; Stars and Nebulae; Galaxies; and Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year, for photographers ages 16 and younger.

One special prize, the Sir Patrick Moore Prize for Best Newcomer, honors astrophotographers who have been shooting photos of space for less than a year. Another special award, the Annie Maunder Prize for Image Innovation, recognizes outstanding image creation using telescope data that is publicly available.

Image 1 of 7

When a massive star explodes as a supernova it expels enormous amounts of materials, leaving behind one of the most beautiful examples of nebulae. This is the origin of the Veil Nebula, a large gas cloud in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan. This image shows just a small fragment of this nebula. The beauty and fine detail of the interlaced wisps of oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen, here mapped to their natural colors, is awe-inspiring.

When a massive star explodes as a supernova it expels enormous amounts of materials, leaving behind one of the most beautiful examples of nebulae. This is the origin of the Veil Nebula, a large gas cloud in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan. This image shows just a small fragment of this nebula. The beauty and fine detail of the interlaced wisps of oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen, here mapped to their natural colors, is awe-inspiring. (Image credit: Copyright Josep Drudis)
Image 2 of 7

On August 12, 2019, our moon occluded Saturn and its moons. The shadowed limb of the waxing gibbous Moon gradually hid the planet over several minutes. Shadowed mountains are visible against the bright planet and rings as an irregular edge where the planet is hidden. To Saturn's left are two of its own icy moons, Tethys (lower) and Dione (upper), tiny specks in the darkness.

On August 12, 2019, our moon occluded Saturn and its moons. The shadowed limb of the waxing gibbous Moon gradually hid the planet over several minutes. Shadowed mountains are visible against the bright planet and rings as an irregular edge where the planet is hidden. To Saturn's left are two of its own icy moons, Tethys (lower) and Dione (upper), tiny specks in the darkness. (Image credit: Copyright Andy Casely)
Image 3 of 7

After two weeks of storm, clouds and snow in Norway's Lofoten Islands, the sky finally cleared up, providing perfect conditions for hunting the northern lights. The photographer waited patiently in their car for the light show to begin and on the first sign of the aurora borealis in the sky, he set up his camera at this famous overlook of the idyllic fishing village Hamnøy. The image is a manual exposure blend consisting of one base image for the sky and foreground plus a total of seven bracketed images to balance the highlights and shadows in the fishing village and water.

After two weeks of storm, clouds and snow in Norway's Lofoten Islands, the sky finally cleared up, providing perfect conditions for hunting the northern lights. The photographer waited patiently in their car for the light show to begin and on the first sign of the aurora borealis in the sky, he set up his camera at this famous overlook of the idyllic fishing village Hamnøy. The image is a manual exposure blend consisting of one base image for the sky and foreground plus a total of seven bracketed images to balance the highlights and shadows in the fishing village and water. (Image credit: Copyright Andreas Ettl)
Image 4 of 7

This image captures the photographer’s favorite astrophotography field and one of the most vibrant, colorful nebulas in space. It shows many interesting deep-sky objects as Rho Ophiuchi the triple star surrounded by the blue reflection nebula IC 4604 on top-left, the red supergiant star Antares and one of closest globular cluster to the Solar System M4 to the right. This two panel mosaic was taken under the dark Namibian sky over two nights in August 2019.

This image captures the photographer’s favorite astrophotography field and one of the most vibrant, colorful nebulas in space. It shows many interesting deep-sky objects as Rho Ophiuchi the triple star surrounded by the blue reflection nebula IC 4604 on top-left, the red supergiant star Antares and one of closest globular cluster to the Solar System M4 to the right. This two panel mosaic was taken under the dark Namibian sky over two nights in August 2019. (Image credit: Copyright Mario Cogo)
Image 5 of 7

The image was taken while the photographer was staying in Sossus Dune Lodge, in the Namib Naukluft Park in Namibia. Situated in the tranquil and remote area, the lodge has the reputation of being the perfect place for stargazers. The photographer was intrigued by the warning sign in the lodge which warned guests to keep the doors shut in case baboons snuck in, so he spent the night expecting a baboon to spring into the shot!

The image was taken while the photographer was staying in Sossus Dune Lodge, in the Namib Naukluft Park in Namibia. Situated in the tranquil and remote area, the lodge has the reputation of being the perfect place for stargazers. The photographer was intrigued by the warning sign in the lodge which warned guests to keep the doors shut in case baboons snuck in, so he spent the night expecting a baboon to spring into the shot! (Image credit: Copyright Qiqige (Nina) Zhao)
Image 6 of 7

Years ago, before over-fishing, Little Redfish Lake was called as such due to the vast numbers of salmon turning the lake a red color. The red coloration is no longer seen because of salmon, but the color of sunsets and airglow during the night still turn the waters a vibrant red. It is these beautiful warm echoes of red, combined with the mirror-like reflections of the Sawtooth Mountains in the distance and the alignment of the Milky Way with the mountains that make Little Redfish Lake one of the most spectacular places the photographer has ever shot at night. The photographer recalls that ‘we were fortunate enough that night to have the lakeshore to ourselves, just three of us, and a rather excited dog who tried his best not to run into our tripods! We spent the sunset here, waiting for the stars to come out and the Milky Way core to rise, marveling at the red color of the water.’

Years ago, before over-fishing, Little Redfish Lake was called as such due to the vast numbers of salmon turning the lake a red color. The red coloration is no longer seen because of salmon, but the color of sunsets and airglow during the night still turn the waters a vibrant red. It is these beautiful warm echoes of red, combined with the mirror-like reflections of the Sawtooth Mountains in the distance and the alignment of the Milky Way with the mountains that make Little Redfish Lake one of the most spectacular places the photographer has ever shot at night. The photographer recalls that ‘we were fortunate enough that night to have the lakeshore to ourselves, just three of us, and a rather excited dog who tried his best not to run into our tripods! We spent the sunset here, waiting for the stars to come out and the Milky Way core to rise, marveling at the red color of the water.’ (Image credit: Bryony Richards )
Image 7 of 7

The 50th Anniversary of ESO's La Silla Observatory culminated with a breath-taking and very clear Total Solar Eclipse. In a very long process, the photographer calibrated, aligned and stacked 96 frames together, revealing the streamers and the faint corona. Stars also became visible, especially the red giant Betelgeuse (left) which started dimming in the months after. For the different star brightnesses of the tiny star dots the photographer used his action set RealStars; so he was able to show the brightness of Betelgeuse in comparison to Bellatrix and the other stars during daytime.

The 50th Anniversary of ESO's La Silla Observatory culminated with a breath-taking and very clear Total Solar Eclipse. In a very long process, the photographer calibrated, aligned and stacked 96 frames together, revealing the streamers and the faint corona. Stars also became visible, especially the red giant Betelgeuse (left) which started dimming in the months after. For the different star brightnesses of the tiny star dots the photographer used his action set RealStars; so he was able to show the brightness of Betelgeuse in comparison to Bellatrix and the other stars during daytime. (Image credit: Sebastian Voltmer)

"Astronomy is one of the most accessible sciences, and everyone has looked up at the night sky at one time or another and wondered what is out there in the cosmos," contest judge and Royal Observatory Greenwich Astronomer Emily Drabek-Maunder said in the statement. "Astrophotography bridges the gap between art and science, highlighting the natural beauty of our universe."

Contest winners will be announced on Sept. 10, and those photos will be displayed in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, beginning in October, according to the statement. 

Originally published on Live Science.