When you gaze up at the night sky, you're not just looking at celestial objects far away in space. You're looking at objects far away in time, too.
The light from a distant star can take thousands of years to reach Earth. That means astrophotography — images of the night sky — is the closest thing we may have to a time machine. The best astrophotography is breathtakingly beautiful to boot.
Below are several images shortlisted for the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2017 awards, meaning they represent the most stunning astrophotography work in the world. They include images of the Northern Lights, a crescent Moon, and the Milky Way.
The final winners of the contest will be announced Sept. 14 at London's Royal Observatory Greenwich.
During an astrophotography tour of the Murmansk region with Stas Korotkiy, an amateur astronomer and popularizer of astronomy in Russia, the turquoise of the Aurora Borealis swirls above the snow covered trees. Illuminated by street lamps, the trees glow a vivid pink forming a contrasting frame for Nature’s greatest lightshow.
Murmansk, Russia, Jan. 3, 2017
Canon EOS 6D camera, 14 mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 3200, four 2-second exposures combined
The seemingly pop art inspired canvas of the rainbow of colours exhibited by the brightest star in our sky, Sirius. These colours are obvious to the naked eye and more so through the eyepiece of a telescope, but are difficult to capture in an image. To do this the photographer had to somehow ‘freeze’ each colour as it happened by taking a series of videos at different levels of focus and then extracted the frames from each video to make up this composite image. By capturing the star out of focus, the light from Sirius was spread out over a larger area, which resulted in the colours it displayed being more obvious. The image is made up of 782 different frames at different levels of focus. There is a single frame of a focused Sirius in the centre of the image.
Stokesley, North Yorkshire, UK. Jan 11, 2016.
Canon EOS 600D camera with Star Adventurer tracking mount, 250 mm lens, ISO 3200, composite of 782 images
Aurora over Sea
The purples and greens of the Northern Lights radiate over the coal mining city of Svea, in the archipelago of Svalbard. The earthy landscape below the glittering sky is illuminated by the strong lights of industry at the pier of Svea.
Svea, Svalbard, Norway, Feb. 25, 2017
Nikon D810 camera, 15 mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 500, 13-second exposure
The snow-clad mountain in the Eastern Sierras towers over the rusty aspen grove aligned perfectly in front of it, whilst our galaxy the Milky Way glistens above.
Eastern Sierras, Calif. Oct. 21, 2016
Nikon D750 camera, 50 mm f/1.8 lens, foreground: f/8, ISO 500, 10-second exposure, sky: f/2.5, ISO 6400, 6-second exposure
Lying in the constellation of Orion, at a distance of 1467 light years from our planet is the emission and reflection nebula NGC 2023. Most often photographed next to the famous Horsehead Nebula, the photographer has instead given NGC 2023 the spotlight in order to try and bring out all of the wonderful detail seen across its diameter of 4 light years, making it one of the largest reflection nebulae ever discovered. Partner Steve Mazlin is the lead processor on this one for SSRO.
Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, near La Serena, Chile. Jan 2, 2016.
RCOS 16-inch f/11.3 reflector telescope, PlaneWave Ascension 200HR mount, FLI PL16803 camera, 1800-second exposure
Crescent Moon over the Needles
The 7% waxing crescent Moon setting in the evening sky over the Needles Lighthouse at the western tip of the Isle of Wight. Despite the Moon being a thin crescent, the rest of its shape is defined by sunlight reflecting back from the Earth’s surface.
Alum Bay, Freshwater, Isle of Wight, UK, 3 October 2016
Nikon D810 camera, 200 mm f/5.6 lens, ISO 500, 2.5-second exposure
The Sun photographed in Calcium-K light, depicting the star’s inner chromosphere. In the colour-rendering scheme used, the surface is shown as negative, with the sunspots as bright spots, but the area outside the limb is shown with increased contrast, highlighting a surge on the western limb, and several small prominences. Although the Sun is shown entering a quieter phase, a lot of activity is still taking place, illustrating just how dynamic our star is.
Groningen, Netherlands. April 4, 2017.
APM 80 mm f/6 refractor telescope, Vixen Great Polaris mount, ZWO ASI178MM camera, stack of 400 frames
The magnificent sight of the Super Moon illuminating the night sky as it sets behind the Marmarole, in the heart of the Dolomites in Italy. On the night of 14 November 2016, the Moon was at perigee at 356,511 km away from the centre of Earth, the closest occurrence since 1948. It will not be closer again until 2034. On this night, the Moon was 30% brighter and 14% bigger than other full moons.
Laggio di Cadore, Province of Belluno, Italy. Nov. 15, 2016.
Nikon D750 camera, 400 mm f/8 lens, ISO 250, background: f/7.1, ISO 200, 1/1000-second exposure, foreground: f/8, ISO 250, ½-second exposure
The Lost Hour
The radiant, concentric star trails seemingly spinning over a lone stargazer against the glowing purples and pinks of the night sky during the hour when the clocks ‘spring forward’ to begin British Summer Time. With time so intrinsically linked to celestial activity, a one-hour star trail seemed the perfect metaphor. Through the use of long exposures, the trails depict the rotation of the Earth on its axis centring on the north celestial pole, the sky moving anti-clockwise around this point.
Titchfield, Hampshire, UK. March 26, 2016.
Sony α7s camera, 17 mm f/4 lens, ISO 1600, 120 x 30-second exposures