The avalanche of impressive submissions we received for our 14th annual contest makes it easy to overlook one remarkable fact: Today’s backyard astrophotographers are producing images that would have made a major observatory proud not very long ago. The happy consequence of such excellence is that picking winners is more difficult than ever. You should have seen the dozens of beautiful photos that didn’t win a prize! What’s perhaps most surprising is that the category with the greatest number of excellent entries is also the most technically challenging—high-resolution deep-sky imaging. Yet the contest result I’m most pleased with is the range of subjects and skill levels represented by the photos in the pages that follow. It’s been a good year. But the more readers who pick up a camera and start shooting, the better next year will be.
Winner: It’s a very tall order to produce a standout image of an object as iconic as the Orion Nebula. And yet that’s what astrophotographer Greg Taylor managed to accomplish from his front yard in St. Anns, Ontario. This is one of the loveliest images of Orion’s showpiece that we’ve seen. Taylor was able to preserve remarkable detail in the nebula’s bright core region (lit by the quartet of stars known collectively as the Trapezium), while at the same time capturing the faint, outermost strands of nebulosity. He used a Canon EOS Rebel T3i DSLR camera equipped with a Sky-Watcher coma corrector and an IDAS LPS-P2 light-pollution filter on an 8-inch f/5 Sky-Watcher Newtonian reflector telescope riding on a Sky-Watcher NEQ6 PRO mount. The final image combines 60, 4-minute exposures with 148, 20-second exposures, all shot at ISO 1600.
Best Deep-Sky With Digital SLR or Webcam-Type Imager
Winner: Spanning roughly three degrees of sky, the Veil Nebula, in Cygnus, is the remnant of a supernova explosion that occurred some 15,000 years ago. It’s one of those large, ghostly objects that’s very striking in photographs but often difficult to observe visually. Clear, dark skies are a must, and a narrowband nebula filter is a big help, too, if you want to see it well. This wide-field photo of the Veil was captured by John Reaume from his backyard near Holstein, Ontario. He used a modified Canon EOS 60D DSLR camera fitted to a Borg 45 ED II f/5 telescope and a 0.7x focal reducer. The final image is a digital stack of 20, 5-minute exposures.
Honourable Mention: Somewhat larger than our Milky Way Galaxy, M106 is about 22 million light-years away, in the direction of the constellation Canes Venatici. Dan Posey of Victoria, British Columbia, used the 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope at the Victoria Centre RASC observatory to image the galaxy with both a Canon EOS 6D DSLR camera and a QSI 583c CCD for a combined total exposure of 3.6 hours.
Best Digital-Camera Photo, Lunar and Planetary
Winner: Jupiter reveals astonishing detail in this superb image taken with a Celestron 14 inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope on March 25 by Darryl Archer from his home in Baden, Ontario. Using a 2.5x Barlow lens, Celestron Skyris monochrome CCD camera and a colour filter wheel, Archer captured 1,500 frames, and of these, 500 frames were stacked using AutoStakkert!, RegiStax and Photoshop. The fine resolution of cloud detail and colour is close to the maximum possible from the Earth’s surface using present techniques.
Honourable Mention: This exceptionally sharp image of the gibbous Moon was obtained from Ottawa, Ontario, by Oleg Bouevitch using a Celestron 11-inch EdgeHD telescope with an ASI174MM-S monochrome cooled USB 3 camera from ZWO. About 6,000 frames of 5-millisecond exposure were stacked and stitched together to complete the capture with a ProPlanet 742 IR-pass filter from Astronomik.
Best Deep-Sky Digital High-Resolution Imagery
Winner: About five light-years wide and 1,300 light-years from Earth, the Iris Nebula (NGC7023) lies in the direction of the constellation Cepheus. Its bluish glow comes from a hot, massive star at the centre. Blue light from the star, named HD 200775, is scattered off surrounding dust grains, giving the reflection nebula its distinctive colour. Dust can also be seen in the outer portions of the nebula, where it has a faint brownish colour and blocks out stars behind it. Dong Hun Kim took this image in September 2015 at the Merritt Star Quest star party in British Columbia using a TEC 160mm apochromatic refractor telescope fitted with a Nikon D810A DSLR camera.
Honourable Mention: Known as the Rho Ophiuchi Cloud Complex, this dusty region between the constellations Ophiuchus and Scorpius contains some of the most colourful nebulas in the heavens. The globular star cluster M4 (the dense cluster of stars at right) adds to the celestial variety seen here. This CCD image was taken by Jean Guimond at his observatory at Saint-Pierre-de-la-Rivière-du-Sud, near Montmagny, Quebec. He used a Takahashi FSQ-106 refractor telescope at f/3.6 and an SBIG STL-11000M CCD camera for this 2.5-hour exposure.
Best Tripod-Mounted Unguided Photo
Winner: Deep in David Thompson Country in the Canadian Rockies west of Edmonton, Alberta, photographer Ray Wiens used his Sony a7R camera fitted with a Zeiss 28mm lens at f/2.8 for this 15-second exposure of an unusual juxtaposition of a ribbon of aurora borealis and the Milky Way. Thanks to today’s more versatile digital cameras, astrophotographers can use higher ISO settings—in this case, 6400—to avoid distracting star trails while maintaining the smooth image quality formerly available only at lower ISO values.
Honourable Mention: Few sights in nature can match a majestic aurora as brilliant as the one captured here. This spectacular “selfie” was taken by Ian Barredo on the hills of Pasqua Lake in Saskatchewan in July 2015 when the aurora was peaking almost every night. He used a Nikon D610 DSLR camera for a 30-second exposure with a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens at f/2.8 and ISO 3200. Popular with astro-imagers, the Rokinon 14mm is a fully manual ultrawide lens of excellent quality.