Astronomy Photographer Of The Year Competition and Annie Maunder

Astronomy Photographer of the year

I was lucky enough to accompany photographer Sam King, Digital Reef Photography, to the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition in London on 12th September. Organised by BBC Sky at Night and the Royal Greenwich Museum, and sponsored by Insight Investment, the competition is renowned across the globe. Photographers from different parts of the world submit their photos with the hopes they will be shortlisted and invited to London to accept their award. From galaxies and nebulae, to nightscapes and detailed photos of our own star, the shortlist was nothing short of spectacular.

Astronomy Photographer of the year

The event took place at the National Maritime Museum and it was an evening to remember to say the least. We enjoyed some champagne, looked around the museum, and talked to other photographers before the ceremony began. Shortly after that, it was time for us to make our way to the table and wait patiently for the ceremony to commence.

The presenter Jon Culshaw (who also shared some brilliant impressions of Carl Sagan, Brian Cox, and Sir Patrick Moore) started with the Young Astronomy Photographer of the year and I was amazed and inspired by the spectacular images children across the world have taken. Having tried to take photos of the night sky with my own camera and through my telescope, I understand the difficulties involved. It is also amazing to see a young generation eager to succeed in this field and fascinated by our Universe. As Jon Culshaw continued to announce the winners, runner-ups and highly commended images for other categories, I realised that people have come from all over the world to take part in this prestigious event. Photographers had travelled from China, Australia, Hungary, USA, and Argentina to accept their awards.

As exciting as this sounds, this wasn’t the best part of my evening. That came when Sam was called on stage to accept his award as a Runner-Up in the People and Space category for his image Above The Tower. The image depicts Horton Tower in Dorset in the foreground and our beautiful Milky Way in the background with the ISS flying across the horizon. What a shot! To quote one of the judges:

If the apocalypse ever happens, I hope it looks as beautiful as this. Every element of this photograph has been processed with care and subtlety so that we see evidence of our presence on Earth and in space at the same time” – Steve Marsh.

Above The Tower by Sam King
Above The Tower, by Sam King

After the ceremony, we were invited to see the exhibition of the winning and shortlisted photographs. When we walked into the gallery, an array of colours took us in. The rich green of the Aurora, the purple-ish, red and blue of the hydrogen emission nebulae, the beautiful shadows of our own Milky Way, reminding us of the fascinating world we are so lucky to call home.

If you have the chance to buy the Astronomy Photographer of the Year book, I strongly recommend you do so. In it, you will find a collection of photos that express the beauty of our Universe in their own way and will encourage you to look up at the night sky more often. Beauty is indeed in the eyes of the beholder and this exhibition shows once again that it’s all around us, we just need the courage to see it.

Annie Maunder, A Pioneer in Solar Astronomy

The event brought my attention to an astronomer called Annie Maunder. She was born in 1868 in Ireland and studied in Girton College Cambridge, where despite her exemplary work, left the institution without any recognition as Cambridge did not award full degrees to women back then. After teaching mathematics for several years, Annie heard about an opportunity at the Greenwich Royal Observatory. Back then women who worked in mathematics were called “computers”. This wouldn’t come as a surprise to you if you have read the book Hidden Figures, or have recently seen the film. Whilst at the observatory, Annie was also trained to work on the telescope and took daily photographs of the Sun. Things changed for her the day she got married as she was no longer allowed to work.

Butterfly Diagram

Despite the lack of recognition in the field of work Annie wanted to pursue, she didn’t give up. She continued to work behind the scenes day and night. Annie and her husband Walter, went to various exhibitions around the world to capture details of the sun’s atmosphere. Together, they created the “the butterfly diagram“. What you see on the photo is a representation of the inner workings of our Sun. It describes the birth of strong-field regions and the restructuring of the dynamo-driven magnetic fields. This is a result of decades of work and the unwavering spirit of someone who was denied the right to practice what they love. I am in awe of this woman, who despite all the odds fought for what she believed in and didn’t allow a political system to stop her from fulfilling her dream. Annie Maunder is someone who deserves to be celebrated and remembered, for she paved the way for other women in astronomy.

Overall, it has been an honour and a privilege to be part of this event. The photos will be on display until April 2020, so if you are in London, I urge you to visit the exhibition at the National Maritime Museum. It might just give you a different perspective of our planet and how important it is to preserve it. After all, isn’t that what art is all about it? To make us think, question, understand and admire?

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