Oxford physicist reaches final of Astronomy Photographer of the Year

9 September 2011

An Oxford researcher has been highly commended in Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2011. Andrew Steele’s image of moonrise over the Oxford skyline was a finalist in the Earth and Space category of the annual competition, run by the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

‘Competition was incredibly stiff, and I’m amazed my photo made it as far as I did,’ said Andrew, ‘It was up against some jaw-dropping images of everything from starry skyscapes to planets and nebulae. The exhibition is definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in London.’ (If you can’t make it in person, you can also peruse the winners on the Royal Observatory website[/url], or in this BBC News audio slideshow.)

Andrew had intended to take this image of the Moon during the lunar eclipse on June 15th but, like many UK skywatchers, his attempt was frustrated by cloud. ‘I wanted to make the best of my careful planning regardless, and so I went up to the same hill the following night to have another go—and I’m glad I did!’

The Moon in this image is turned a deep red for exactly the same reason that the Sun is turned red when it rises and sets. When you’re looking at the Moon or Sun on the horizon, the light is travelling through hundreds of miles of atmosphere before it reaches your eye. The blue and green light is scattered by tiny particles of dust in the atmosphere, with only the red remaining by the time it reaches you.

‘I think the reason this photo works so well is because, as well as the astronomical element, it’s an unusual take on the oft-photographed Oxford skyline,’ Andrew explained, ‘All Oxford’s famous landmarks are there: the Radcliffe Camera, Tom Tower, the University Church—and actually, the Moon is rising almost directly over the physics department!’

The overall prize was won by Damian Peach, whose photograph of Jupiter and two of its moons stunned judges with its high level of detail. The image was taken during a three-week trip to Barbados specifically to image Jupiter. ‘The atmospheric clarity is frequently excellent,’ said Damian, ‘allowing very clear and detailed photographs of the planets to be obtained.’

The winning images can be viewed online, or at an exhibition in the Royal Observatory which runs until February 2012.