Thomas Kasts's Painting the Sky is the winner of the Skyskapes category of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2020. The competition runs annually at the Royal Observatory Greenwich in England.
The image isn't a painting, but a photo with subtle processing to enhance a beautiful display of polar stratospheric clouds in Kilpisjärvi, Enontekiö, Finland. These clouds are a rare winter phenomenon of high latitudes, breaking up light into colours rather like oil on water.
The World At Night (TWAN) is an international project to promote high quality astrophotos set in varied landscapes. Jeff Dai captured this atmospheric scene in southwestern China during the Leonid meteor shower of mid-November 2011. Mars was a few months from opposition and already quite bright.
In addition to Mars shining like a beacon, just below it is a meteor streak. The Leonids occur when Earth passes through the debris stream of Comet Tempel-Tuttle.
Jeff Hellermann photographed The Very Large Array at Moonset, the dish antennas standing proudly in the New Mexico desert. It looks like a setting Sun, but if it were sunset we wouldn't see the Milky Way and a skyful of stars.
The radio telescope was inaugurated in 1980, but renamed in 2012 as the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array. Jansky, an American physicist and radio engineer, was one of the founders of radio astronomy. The VLA antennas can be configured in different ways – the tracks you see in the picture allow them to be moved around.
Lestie, you've realised the big problem with data collection. Telescopes can now collect it much faster than humans could possibly process it. But there are some smart folk that understand both what's wanted from the data and how to write a computer program to do the grunt work.
The big deal now seems to be AI - artificial intelligence, as it's commonly known. But in two talks I've seen about it, the astronomers preferred to call it "augmented intelligence" where the humans will be able to make use of the ability of the computer to process large amounts of data to complement the human side. (Rather than letting the computer take over the world!)
Typical of the many fantastic images from the Hubble Space Telescope is this portrait of NGC 5643, a nearby spiral galaxy. It's about 55 million light years away – that is nearby in galactic terms.
NGC 5643, in the southern constellation Lupus (the Wolf), is some 100,000 light years across. Blue spiral arms dominate the picture, showing active star formation producing hot young blue stars. But also notice the glowing centre. NGC 5643 is an “active” galaxy with hot gas falling into a massive central black hole.
Here's Comet NEOWISE which caused some excitement in 2020. There can't have been many people that found the comet in as dramatic a setting as Constantine Emmanouilidi did – the Vikos Gorge in northern Greece. [APOD]
The sky is speckled with stars, but you should easily be able to pick out the asterism of the Big Dipper (the Plough in Britain). Millions of years of erosion by the Voidomatis River created this spectacularly deep gorge.
Australian photographer Peter Ward won the Stars and Nebulae category of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2020 for Cosmic Inferno. The nebula is NGC 3576, discovered nearly two centuries ago by John Herschel.
Nebulae are sites of stellar creation and destruction. But Ward removed the stars from the image using software, and mapped the nebula itself onto a false color palette. It made for a dramatic photo which also evoked the bushfires that burned over 46 million acres and destroyed thousands of homes in Australia in 2019-2020.
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