These 11 Space Photo Award Winners Are Truly Out of This World

See the wispy aurorae, amazing star clusters, and picturesque planets that make this year’s Royal Museums Greenwich Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest.

 Thick dust and gas clouds outline a nebula. Wispy, less-dense clouds fill the center. They appear i...
Runwei Xu and Binyu Wang

For the past 15 years, England’s Royal Museums Greenwich has held an annual Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest, highlighting all the incredible nebulas, breathtaking gas clouds, awesome aurorae, and gobsmacking galaxies captured throughout the year. This year’s 11 winners encompass both professional photographers and amateur astronomers, and the shortlisted photographs are just as incredible.

If you’re inspired to see more, visit the Royal Museums Greenwich online and cast your vote for the People’s Choice Award for 2023.

“Andromeda, Unexpected”

Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2023 Winner

Andromeda, Unexpected © Marcel Drechsler, Xavier Strottner and Yann Sainty, Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2023

Three European photographers — Marcel Drechsler, Xavier Strottner, and Yann Sainty — took 110 hours of exposure to see the Andromeda Galaxy in a whole new way. They discovered faint light from a massive sea of charged particles that were essentially hiding in plain sight.

The blue streak to the left of the famous galaxy is now named the Strottner-Drechsler-Sainty Object 1 (SDSO-1) after the amateur astronomy trio. This huge extragalactic plasma streak appeared in an Oxygen-3 telescopic filter, an unpopular choice for viewing space. The team tried their luck, seeing if they could add a new visual dimension to the popular astronomy target.

The result was “an absolute accident,” Drechsler said in an image description.

“Grand Cosmic Fireworks”

Skyscapes 2023 Winner

Grand Cosmic Fireworks © Angel An

Photographer Angel An stood on a Himalayan ridge as the sky erupted in this transient luminous event (TLE) on May 20, 2022. A TLE is a rare phenomenon that happens high above thunderstorm clouds, and while scientists have some knowledge about them, there is plenty left to discover.

This particular TLE called a sprite, extended much higher than the upper edge of the photo, as the ethereal “sprites” danced like fireworks, according to the photographer.

“A Sun Question”

Our Sun 2023 Winner

A Sun Question © Eduardo Schaberger Poupeau

A mosaic of 115 frames picked from out of 3,400, this photo captures a filament as it meanders in the shape of a question mark across the Sun’s richly textured surface. Photographer Eduardo Schaberger Poupeau imaged this solar quandary from Rafaela, Argentina, on October 1, 2022.

“If you zoom into the surface of the Sun, the image has a paint-like quality,” competition judge Sheila Kanani said in the image description. “I feel like I can see the brush strokes. There’s a sense of movement.”


Our Moon 2023 Winner

Mars-Set © Ethan Chappel

Mars plays peekaboo behind a full Moon during the December 8, 2022, lunar occultation. The lunar ground rises and dips as its textures reach out towards the horizon. Captured by photographer Ethan Chappel in Cibolo, Texas, this image displays our only satellite’s gray, dusty color in sharp contrast with the rust-orange tones of the Red Planet.

“To capture the level of detail on Mars that you see here takes a huge amount of skill and practice,” competition judge Steve Marsh said in an image description.


Aurorae 2023 Winner

Brushstroke © Monika Deviat

“It’s always a different show every time,” photographer Monika Deviat says in an image description of her photo of this aurora borealis above Utsjoki, Finland, and capturing “a single moment of the dance” requires skill, one Deviat has been honing since starting out as a concert photographer.

One challenge is that a person's eyes at night aren’t adept at picking up colors. A camera, however, can capture them well — the photographer doesn’t rely entirely on their tool. Exceptional photographers like Deviat keep an eye skyward for interesting, sudden motion because the sequence that birthed this aurora strand lasted less than a minute.

“Suspended in a Sunbeam”

Planets, Comets and Asteroids 2023 Winner

Suspended in a Sunbeam © Tom Williams

Although usually pictured as a suffocating hellscape, Venus puts on a creamy, soft texture for this award-winning image.

The planet is easily seen from Earth with the naked eye, shining exceptionally brightly in the sky as it reflects visible light from the Sun. But on February 26, 2023, from Trowbridge, U.K., photographer Tom Williams elected to look at Venus in ultraviolet light, which highlighted the contrasts in Venus’ atmosphere from the ground.


People and Space 2023 Winner

Zeila © Vikas Chander

As a shipwreck in Hentiesbaai, Namibia, sits along a treacherous Atlantic coastline on September 18, 2022, the weathered and beaten artifact is accompanied by incredible star trails — an amazing backdrop for photographer Vikas Chander.

“It is a hauntingly beautiful image that would be the perfect setting for a ghost story and is one of my favorites from this year’s competition,” judge Melissa Brobby writes in an image description.

“New Class of Galactic Nebulae Around the Star YY Hya”

Stars and Nebulae 2023 Winner

New Class of Galactic Nebulae Around the Star YY Hya © Marcel Drechsler

This is “the heart of the Hydra,” which amateur astronomer Marcel Drechsler discovered when observing the sky from Ovalle, Chile, from March 2021 to April 2022. Drechsler is also part of the team behind the 2023 winning photograph of the Andromeda Galaxy.

Here, a pair of stars are surrounded by a common swaddle of dust and gas, called an envelope. More than 360 hours of exposure time were required to make this image, lasting around 100 nights over the course of about a year.

“Sh2-132: Blinded by the Light”

Sir Patrick Moore Prize for Best Newcomer 2023 Winner

Sh2-132: Blinded by the Light © Aaron Wilhelm

Newcomer Aaron Wilhelm impressed the judges with this photo of the Lion Nebula, photographed from Santa Monica, California, in September 2022. “With subtle but varying colors across the whole palette, the dark, twisting lanes of dust are resolved in exquisite detail, and the stars are perfectly round with no hint of trailing,” Judge Steve Marsh said in an image description.

Wilhelm took almost 70 hours of data to capture these faint emissions near the border of the Cepheus and Lacerta constellations.

“The Running Chicken Nebula”

Young Category 2023 winner

The Running Chicken Nebula © Runwei Xu and Binyu Wang

Resembles a galactic cavern, this amazing image almost seems to invite the viewer to crawl inside and take a look.

This is the Running Chicken Nebula, named for its faint central feature shaped like a bird mid-sprint. Photographers Runwei Xu and Binyu Wang took this image from El Sauce Observatory in Río Hurtado, Chile, on December 19, 2022.

“Black Echo”

Annie Maunder Prize for Image Innovation 2023 Winner

Black Echo © John White

Here’s a way to hear with your eyes.

To create this image, John White passed audio through a receiver into an old speaker. Onto this device, White attached a petri dish with a blackened-out base. Then, this was filled with 3mm of water. The image seen here is the best shot out of about 100 White took as sound perturbed the water in a dark room where only a halo light shined — but this isn’t any ordinary sound.

These audio waves emanate from a black hole at the Perseus galaxy cluster’s center as the black hole emits pressure waves through abundant hot gas. NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory observed this twenty years ago, but NASA scaled the sound 57 octaves above its true pitch so human ears could hear it.

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