“This competition provides a great opportunity to celebrate the best astrophotography in the past year and to share these gorgeous, inspiring images with a large audience”, said Olivia Johnson, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory and also a judge in the competition.
Earth & Space Winner (Overall Winner)
Galactic Paradise -- Forming a dramatic backdrop to a tropical skyline, the Milky Way galaxy contains hundreds of billions of stars in a disc-like structure. Our Sun lies within the disc, about two-thirds of the way out from the centre, so we see it as a bright band encircling the sky. This southern hemisphere view highlights dark clouds of dust that aboriginal Australian astronomers called the ‘Emu in the sky’.
Earth & Space Runner-Up
Divine Presence -- The aurorae, or Northern and Southern Lights, are caused by the interaction between the Earth’s atmosphere and a stream of particles from the Sun known as the solar wind. The Earth’s magnetic field funnels these particles down over the planet’s poles giving rise to the glowing curtains of coloured light. These are best seen in the night sky near to the North and South Poles.
Our Solar System Runner-Up
Dragon Storm -- Saturn, the second largest planet in the Solar System, is best known for its brilliant rings. These rings are made up of countless ice and dust particles orbiting the planet in intricate patterns, some of which can be seen in this series of photographs. Taken about forty minutes apart, these images show the progress of a huge storm, called the Dragon Storm, moving in Saturn’s upper atmosphere as the planet rotates.
Our Solar System Winner
Jupiter with lo and Ganymede -- Jupiter is the largest planet in the Solar System. It is a giant ball of gas with no solid surface, streaked with colourful bands of clouds and dotted with huge oval storms.
In addition to the swirling clouds and storms in Jupiter’s upper atmosphere, surface features of two of the planet’s largest moons can be seen in this remarkably detailed montage. Io, to the lower left, is the closest to Jupiter. The most geologically active object in the Solar System, its red-orange hue comes from sulphurous lava flows. Ganymede, the largest moon in the Solar System, is composed of rock and water ice. The Planet and its moons have been photographed separately, then brought together to form this composite image.
Deep Space Winner
Vela Supernova Remnant -- This intricate structure is the aftermath of a supernova explosion, the violent death of a star many times more massive than the Sun. It 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 wider than the disc of the full Moon.
Deep Space Runner-Up
Leo Triplet -- The Leo Triplet is a group of three spiral galaxies located thirty-five million light years away. Like our own Milky Way, they are disc-like galaxies. They contain 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, as we view our own galaxy.
Young Winner (Age: 15)
Lunar Eclipse and Occultation -- A lunar eclipse is a brief alignment of the Sun, Earth and Moon which places the Moon in the Earth’s shadow. 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.
Young Runner-Up (Age: 15)
Starry Night Sky -- Most stars, like the Sun, appear to move across the sky from east to west as the Earth spins on its axis every twenty-four hours. This long-exposure photograph captures the apparent motion of the stars that seem to circle the area in the sky over the Earth’s North Pole close to the Pole Star.
Best Newcomer Winner
Zodiacal Light on the Farm -- The faint glow reaching into the sky from the horizon to the right of the barn in this scene is known as zodiacal light. Visible only in extremely dark skies, it results from sunlight reflecting off dust particles in our Solar System.
People & Space Winner
Stargazing -- In remote locations, dark skies make it is possible to see thousands of stars using just your eyes. When the sky is lite by the Sun, Moon or artificial lights on Earth, it blocks the view of all but the brightest stars..
Special Prize, Robotic Scope Winner
Shell Galaxies (NGC474 and NGC467) -- 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 sheets seen in this galaxy may result from its gravitational interaction with the nearby spiral galaxy to the right.
The winners of the 2011 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition snapped some incredible images: astronomical objects from within our solar system and far into deep space. See more photos at the London Royal Observatory.