Royal Observatory Greenwich’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year winners make unexpected discovery

The overall winners of the Royal Observatory Greenwich’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year made a surprising discovery that scientists across the world are now working on.

Marcel Drechsler, Xavier Strottner and Yann Sainty took the top prize for their photograph Andromeda, Unexpected which captures a huge previously unknown plasma arc next to the Andromeda Galaxy (M31).

Scientists are now investigating the giant object in a transnational collaboration. It could be the largest such structure nearest to Earth in the universe.

Blinded By The Light, the winner of the Best Newcomer category (Picture: Aaron Wilhelm)

The image will be on display alongside the winners of the other categories in the accompanying exhibition, opening at the National Maritime Museum tomorrow.

The Andromeda Galaxy is the closest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way. It is undoubtedly one of the most photographed deep sky objects ever.

The discovery of such a large structure in the immediate vicinity of the galaxy was all the more surprising. The arc has an extension of about 1.5 x 0.45 degrees, is only 1.2 degrees away from the centre of M31 and is located south-east of the main body of the galaxy.

Marcel Drechsler, Xavier Strottner and Yann Sainty said in a statement: “It’s an enormous honour for our team to receive this important award and we are grateful for all the support, friendship and encouragement we have received along our journey.

“It encourages us to continue to pursue our passion for astrophotography and, of course, research with dedication.”

László Francsics, judge and astrophotographer, said: “This astrophoto is as spectacular as it is valuable.

“It not only presents Andromeda in a new way, but also raises the quality of astrophotography to a higher level.”

The Running Chicken Nebula won the Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year award (Picture: Runwei Xu and Binyu Wang)

The Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year award was won by two 14-year-old boys from China.

Runwei Xu and Binyu Wang collaborated to capture The Running Chicken Nebula. Yuri Beletsky, judge and professional astronomer, described it as a “strikingly beautiful picture”. 

The other winning images included Circle of Light by Andreas Ettl, which shows the Northern Lights reflected on Skagsanden beach in Norway, The Dark Wolf  Fenrir by James Baguley, which shows a molecular cloud in the form of a wolf, A Sun Question by Eduardo Schaberger Poupeau, which captures a huge filament in the shape of a question mark, and Grand Cosmic Fireworks by Angel An, a photograph of the extremely rare phenomenon of atmospheric luminescence. 

Circle of Light shows the Northern Lights reflected on Skagsanden beach, Norway (Picture: by Andreas Ettl)

Another of the judges’ favourite images was New Class of Galactic Nebulae Around the Star YY Hya by Marcel Dreschsler, which won the Stars and Nebulae category. The photograph captures a previously unknown galactic nebula containing a pair of stars surrounded by a common envelope, adding another exciting discovery to the winning images.

Dr Ed Bloomer, astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, said: “Once again, entrants to the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition have conspired to make things difficult for the judges, with a flood of high-quality images covering an amazing range of targets. 

“The highlight of this year is perhaps a number of genuine discoveries being imaged, but we’ve had wonderful efforts in every category, and I’m particularly pleased to see the continued strength of our young entrants and those eligible for The Sir Patrick Moore Prize for Best Newcomer. 

“It has led to some intense debate among the judges as we try to choose the very best of the best, but we don’t mind.”

A Sun Question won the Our Sun category (Picture: Eduardo Schaberger Poupeau)

Katherine Gazzard, curator of art at Royal Museums Greenwich, said: “As a newcomer to the competition, the technical sophistication of the entries blew me away.

“So many beautiful images made the shortlist, and the winning images are absolutely stunning. It has made me look at the night sky in a new light.”

Pictured top: The overall winner of the Royal Observatory Greenwich’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition, Andromeda, Unexpected (Picture: Marcel Drechsler, Xavier Strottner and Yann Sainty)

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