Choosing the winners of this contest is growing more difficult as the quality of the images noticeably improves each year. With digital DSLR cameras becoming more capable as the technology advances, astrophotography is now more popular than ever. Our contest reflects all skill levels involved. For example, the tripod-mounted unguided photo category requires no more than the camera and a tripod to keep it steady during the dusk or night-sky exposure. Typically, a thoughtfully composed 1- to 30-second exposure with a 15mm to 50mm lens nets the photographer first prize in this division.
Winner: From his backyard observatory near Grafton, Ontario, Lynn Hilborn obtained this beautifully detailed portrait of the Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest spiral galaxy similar to our home galaxy, the Milky Way. The most remarkable aspect of this shot is that it was taken with a lens the size of a lunch box thermos: a Canon 200mm f/2.8 lens used at f/3.5. The camera was an FLI ML8300 CCD on a Takahashi NJP Temma-2 mount for a total exposure of 8.5 hours. Hilborn is a self-taught virtuoso of astronomical image processing, which gives his images a quality associated with photos taken with much larger optics.
Grand Prize: Ritchey-Chrétien 8″ telescope from Mallincam
Best Deep-Sky with Digital SLR or Webcam-Type Imager
Winner: Astro-imager Daniel Posey of Victoria, British Columbia, recorded this image of the giant spiral galaxy M101 at the observatory of the Victoria Centre of The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, located on the grounds of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory on Little Saanich Mountain. He used a Canon EOS 6D DSLR camera attached to the facility’s Meade 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope to acquire an exposure of 2 hours 40 minutes at ISO 1600.
Prize: Meade Series 5000 24mm Ultra Wide Angle eyepiece from Meade Instruments
Honourable Mention: This image of the California Nebula (also known as NGC1499), in Perseus, by Maxime Poirier emphatically illustrates recent advances in amateur astrophotography. Taken from Montcerf-Lytton, Quebec (about 300 kilometres northwest of Montreal), Poirier’s photo combines 14 eight-minute exposures at ISO 1600, captured using a commercially modified Canon EOS Rebel T3i DSLR camera attached to an Astro-Tech 65mm f/6.5 apochromatic refractor telescope. Not long ago, a photo of this quality would have required a largish telescope, a lengthy session of painstaking manual guiding and a specialized CCD camera. That said, this was not an easy capture — just easier than it used to be!
Best Digital-Camera Photo/Lunar and Planetary
Winner: For a few months every five to six years, the orbital plane of the four major Jovian satellites is edge-on to Earth. At these times, the moons can pass in front of one another. The most recent of these alignments occurred this past winter and spring. Here, we see Ganymede, the largest moon, as it partially eclipsed Io on April 28, as imaged by Quebec astrophotographer Daniel Borcard using a Celestron 9.25-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain.
Prize: Celestron NexStar Evolution 8 telescope from Celestron
Honourable Mention: In mid-February, a huge filament one million kilometres in length — more than twice the Earth-Moon distance — spread east-west across the lower half of the Sun’s face. This solar portrait, taken February 10 by Jean Guimond from his Quebec City observatory, shows a plethora of detail revealed by a Lunt LS80 H-alpha solar telescope (80mm diameter at f/7) and a PGR Grasshopper monochrome video camera. The image is a stack of the best 100 of more than 1,000 frames.
Best Deep-Sky Digital High-Resolution imagery
Winner: Among the most photographed objects in the heavens, the cup-shaped Orion Nebula (M42) and its companion, the blue Running Man Nebula (NGC1977), are exquisitely captured in this image by Ron Brecher of Guelph, Ontario. He used a 10-inch f/3.6 ASA astrographic reflector for the CCD image. For further details, visit his website.
Prize: Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer multipurpose mount and EQ wedge from Sky-Watcher.
Honourable Mention: Canadian astro-imager Jack Newton took this remarkably detailed portrait of Comet Lovejoy’s diaphanous gas tail on January 16 from his winter observatory in Arizona Sky Village, near Portal, in southeastern Arizona. Using a Meade 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope fitted with a HyperStar f/2 astrographic imaging system, Newton took two exposures, then digitally stitched them together in Photoshop. The gaseous filaments so clearly evident here are being “blown” by the solar wind, a stream of charged particles released by the Sun. The name “comet” derives from the ancient Greek word for “hair”; hence comets were called hairy stars.
Best Tripod-Mounted Unguided Photo
Winner: On December 20, 2014, at 1:30 a.m., Calgary photographer Brett Abernethy saw this brilliant bolide meteor light up the night while he was taking a time exposure of a winter scene in Banff National Park. Abernethy instantly knew that he had the shot of a lifetime.
Prize: iOptron SkyGuider tracking camera mount from iOptron
Honourable Mention: Early risers who scan the morning sky an hour or so before sunrise are occasionally rewarded with an astro-treat like this before breakfast. At 5:04 a.m. on July 24, 2014, Steve Irvine of Big Bay, Ontario, used a break in the clouds to record this shot of the waning crescent Moon along with Venus, at top centre, and dimmer Mercury, at lower left. Exposure was 1.6 seconds at ISO 200 with a tripod-mounted Canon 6D and a 24-105mm lens at 65mm and f/5.6.