Winners Starmus astro-photography competition

Posted on May 17 2011
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We are pleased to announce the winners of the STARMUS astro-photography competition. All the judges, David Malin, Noel Carboni and Greg Parker were very impressed with the high quality of the entries. We received over 250 entries in three broad categories of still images, Deep Sky, Wide Field, Solar System, and Animations, meaning movies of the night sky, with any subject orientation.

It was this last category that produced the overall winner, a beautiful collection of time-lapse sequences of the southern Milky Way seen over the Southern Ocean, made by Alex Cherney, of Victoria, Australia.

In this compilation see our Galaxy, rising and setting over the turbulent Southern Ocean, connecting the distant stars to that other fascinating interface, the ocean shore. In between the action comes from the scudding clouds and the only evidence of life, coastal shipping and the occasional aircraft darting through the night. Beyond our galaxy, its nearest galactic neighbours, the Magellanic clouds, rise high in the sky, while moonrise suddenly reveals the remarkable landscape of Australia's south coast. All the sections of the competition are represented in this series of carefully composed images.

The scenes are chosen with the eye of an artist, but the subtle panning and excellent control of colour and contrast reveal technical skills of a high order. The sequence is short, about 2 1/2 minutes, but it rewards repeated viewing. Especially beautiful are the halos of color around of the stars in the Southern Cross, when seen through thin cloud. Alex Cherney's equipment was a Nikon D700 with Nikkor 14-24mm lens and the compilation is the result six sessions totalling 31 hours exposure time.

The winner of the Deep Sky section was John Davis, of Dallas, Texas, USA. His image "Sword to Witch" is a colourful yet subtle linking of two well-known and much photographed patches of sky. The 12-degree-wide panoramic image includes the bright nebulosity of the naked-eye Orion nebula and the much fainter, delicate tracery of the Witch's Head nebula. Between these extremes is another, the dazzling star Rigel, almost on the Orion-Eridanus border.

The expertise here is to compress this enormous brightness range in one, skilfully-constructed cosmic landscape without loss of detail, and most remarkably, with no sign of the internal reflections that come with deep images of bright stars. We also note here more of the graceful Witch's Head nebula (IC 2118) than is normally seen and many faint red clouds of emission nebulosity around the blue glow of the hot star Rigel, both challenging subjects. These seem to link with the powerful and familiar tangled structure of the Orion nebula, to produce a fine and intriguing composition. The photograph is five-panel mosaic, with a total exposure time of 15 hours. The exposures were made with a Takahashi FSQ-106EDX Astrograph and a SBIG STL-11000M CCD Camera.

We were surprised to find when we finally compared our scores for all the entrants that a single name had the highest ranking from our combined scores in both the Solar System and Wide Field categories. That name was Fabian Neyer, of St. Gall, Switzerland.

In the Solar System category Neyer's Saturn occulation stood out for its stark simplicity and excellent execution, more intriguing than spectacular. He used a Canon EOS 20D camera attached to an Astro Physics 130mm refractor at f/16.

In the Wide Field category his spectacular image of the central regions of the Milky Way is truly wide field, stretching from Scutum to Norma, with the direction of the Galatic center in the middle of the field. We thought it outstanding for several reasons.

The enormous but little known red nebula around the runaway star Zeta Ophiuchi, at the upper left of the image is rarely photographed and truly faint, while the brighter nebulae around Rho Ophichi and Antares are also well shown, together with the long dark streak of dust seeming to join this group to the Milky Way itself.

The Galactic plane runs across the center of the image and along it are a series of pink star-forming regions, including the brightest, M8 which is easily visible to the naked eye. The image appears pin-sharp from edge to edge and was made using a modified camera and an off-the-shelf lens. It consists of over 200 individual five-minute exposures using a modified Canon EOS 40D and a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 operating at f/4.0, and the final image is a 16-frame mosaic taken in the Australian Outback.