Over the course of the past year, you have submitted your exquisite photos of stars, nebulae, planets and other astronomical phenomena to SkyNews. Here are the top images in our 18th annual photo contest.
Best of the best
Winner: Jason Dain
Jason Dain’s image of the Milky Way arching over Polly’s Cove, Nova Scotia, took knowhow, curiosity and months of patience. It all paid off, winning him the Grand Prize in the 2020 SkyNews Photo of the Year contest.
“Composition-wise, the Milky Way running parallel to the rocky shoreline, with the softening of the water due to the long exposure — everything is just right here,” a judge noted.
Dain said he found this location last autumn while pursuing his other hobby, birding. He said he checked the charts and found the Milky Way would be in the perfect position in March and he set a reminder on his phone. He took the image March 28, 2020, using a Nikon D850 and a Nikon 20mm f/1.8 lens and an iOptron SkyGuiderPro tracker. He shot at f/2.8 for eight minutes total. For the sky, he took three two-minute tracked exposures at f/2.8 and ISO 800. Turning off the tracker, he took a single five-minute exposure for the foreground at f/4, ISO 800 to get a bit more depth of field. He stacked the sky images using Sequator and then combined the foreground and background images in Photoshop and did the final edits.
Best deep-sky object
Winner: Dave Dev
At the heart of the Heart Nebula, shaping it, is an open cluster of stars. Located about 7,500 light years away, NASA says the cluster Melotte 15 contains a few bright stars nearly 50 times the mass of our Sun, many dim stars only a fraction of the mass of our Sun, and an absent micro-quasar that was expelled millions of years ago.
A clear, crisp image of this cluster, taken by Dave Dev at last year’s Starfest, took the top spot Deep-Sky Object category this year, impressing the judges with its depth of capture and perfect processing.
Dev said the image data was taken over two days in August 2019 in Ayton, Ontario. He used an Orion 115 mm refractor at f/7 on a EQ6 mount, with an ASI 1600 mono camera with Baader & AstroDon narrowband filters. He wrote that he imaged: Ha, three-minute subs, for a total of 2.5 hours. O3, 5 min subs, for a total of six hours. S2, three-minute subs, for a total of 3.5 hrs. He processed the image in PixInsight, mapped to SHO (Hubble palette).
Honourable Mention: Yanick Bouchard
Keeping with the love theme, Yanick Bouchard won Honourable Mention with “At the Heart of Cygnus.”
His shot encompasses a five-degree wide field near 2.2-magnitude Gamma Cygni, including the Crescent Nebula (NGC6888) in the lower right corner and the open cluster Messier 29 at the bottom of the frame. From Mirable, Quebec, Bouchard created this nine-tile mosaic using a Celestron EdgeHD 925, 9.25-inch telescope with HyperStar (for a focal ratio of f/2.3) and a ZWO ASI1600MC cooled colour CMOS camera.
Best lunar, solar or planetary image
Winner: Jean Guimond
Jean Guimond’s series of images of a solar prominence were the hottest shots in this category. He submitted four H-alpha shots of the south-western limb of the Sun, showing the evolution of a solar prominence from June 16 to 19, 2020.
Each image is a stack of the best 100 of 1,000 frames combined with Autostakkert!3 taken with a modified Takahashi TOA-150 for H-Alpha solar imaging equipped with a Baader DERF and a Lunt etalon and blocking filter. He took the images with a PGR (now FLIR) Grasshopper USB3 videocamera with a Televue Powermate 2X (focal length 2200mm, at f/14.6) from his backyard in Quebec City. Image processing was in Photoshop, with the solar surface inverted and colourized, and the prominence in grayscale.
Honourable Mention: Oleg Bouevitch
With its great composition and beautiful processing, Oleg Bouevitch’s image of the gibbous Moon was our runner up in the Lunar, Planetary or Solar Image category. Bouevitch shot for the Moon on November 8, 2019 from Nepean, Ontario. Using a Sony Alpha 7iii full-frame mirrorless camera and an 11-inch Celestron EdgeHD SCT and Losmandy G11 mount, Bouevitch selected and stacked 200 of his best frames out of 400. He stacked the image in AutoStakkert!, and worked on colour saturation, defringing and digimarc in Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.
Winner: Tom Evans
There are a lot of dedicated astrophotographers out there. Even so, Tom Evans went to jaw-dropping lengths — lying on a frozen lake at midnight in 50 km/h winds at -32C — to capture this year’s winning Landscape image of Orion over Abraham Lake.
The judges loved this stunning image, noting that the juxtaposition of the eerie ice bubbles, the crack leading in and the constellation is “outstanding.”
Evans used an unmodified Canon 6D with a Sigma ART 20mm lens on a fixed tripod. He took seven sub-frames, selected from 28 exposures at f/1.4, ISO 3200, 18 seconds each. For the foreground, he used seven focus stacked groups of three exposures each. The seven focal points ranged from 0.3 m to infinity in order to capture the close up ice bubbles yet maintain a clear horizon, and each exposure was 40 seconds at ISO 1600, f/1.4. He processed the sky using a combination of Pixinsight and Photoshop, and the composite and final adjustments were made in Photoshop.
Honourable Mention: Jeanine Holowatuik
Shot from Greenwater Lake Provincial Park, Saskatchewan, Jeanine Holowatuik’s image of noctilucent clouds was a judge favourite. She took the image June 7, 2020 at 11:15 p.m. She used a one-second shutter, ISO 400, f/3.2 at 50mm. Her camera was a Canon 6D, and the lens was a Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens.
Winner: Ian Barredo
Ian Barredo’s Pacman Nebula took the biggest bite out of votes in our Readers’ Choice contest this year.
The winning image was his second attempt at imaging NGC 281 from his Bortle-8 back-yard in Regina, Saskatchewan. “I find this nebula beautiful because of its shape and it is Oxygen III structure, which appears bluish-green when processed using the Hubble Palette,” he said.
This was his second attempt at imaging this object. The first time, he used an 80mm telescope and 12nm narrowband filters. “For the second attempt I used a 103mm telescope and camera with smaller sensor than previously, and narrower 7 nm narrowband filters,” Barredo pointed out. “That allowed me to have a closer look at the details of the nebula, with finer details.”
He used a WilliamOptics 103mm refractor with a ZWO ASI 183 mono and a AZEQ6 mount, shooting 21 hours using narrowband filters.