Whether you’re on the other side of the world or in your own back yard, it’s fun to look up at the night sky and wonder. One of my fondest memories of South America was one night on Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca. Back when I went, there was no electricity on the island and the night sky was brilliant with stars. The fact that I couldn’t recognize the constellations – because they’re different than the ones in the Northern Hemisphere – really made me realize I had traveled a long way.
Some get more serious with their stargazing. Dedicated amateur astronomers travel the world for good observing conditions or to take the best photographs.
The Royal Observatory at Greenwich, England, and Sky at Night Magazine have just named Astronomy Photographer of the Year for 2012. The top prize went to Australian-based photographer Martin Pugh for a photo of the Whirlpool Galaxy. There were several categories, including a Youth category that attracted some incredible shots. While many photographers focused on distant galaxies or nebulae, others chose to combine terrestrial scenes with heavenly wonders. These images remind us that no matter how far we journey, we’ve barely moved in comparison to the vastness of the universe.
Above is the winner for the Earth and Space category. Masahiro Miyasaka took this shot in Nagano, Japan. It shows Orion, Taurus, and the Pleiades as the backdrop to an eerie frozen landscape. Though the stars appear to gleam with a cold, frosty light, bright blue stars like the Pleiades can be as hot as 30,000 degrees Celsius. He titled it “Star Icefall,” showing he’s a poet as well as a photographer.
Check out the gallery for other fine photographs, and jump the break to see my personal favorite.
Titled “Green World,” it was taken by Arild Heitmann. The aurora borealis traces the shifting patterns of the Earth’s magnetic field, creating a spectacular midwinter show in Nordland Fylke, Norway. The green light in this image comes from oxygen atoms high in the atmosphere, which have been energized by subatomic particles from the Solar Wind.