Over the course of the past year, SkyNews readers have submitted hundreds of stunning images of stars, nebulae, planets and other astronomical phenomena to our 19th annual Photo of the Week contest. Chosen by our panel of judges, here are the best.
Best of the best
Winner: Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex by Stephan Hamel
The Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex is a favourite of astrophotographers. The star in the yellow nebulous area is Antares; the red point to the right is Sigma Scorpii. The globular cluster Messier 4 sits between the two. IC 4603 and IC 4604 provide the blue nebulous areas, the latter being lit up by the multiple-star system Rho Ophiuchi at the top.
Stephan Hamel said it is an elusive region at his latitude, lying low on the horizon during short summer nights.
“I had previously imaged it in 2019, but wanted to get a wider field of view and fainter details. I had to wait two years to get the right equipment and to get a clear, moonless night to image it again.”
Camera: ZWO 2600MC
Lens: 135mm Samyang f2
Focal ratio: f/2.8
Exposure time: 67 exposures, 180 seconds each. Total integration time ~3 hours
Location: Hanwell, New Brunswick
Date: May 14, 2021
Best deep sky
Winner: Horsehead Nebula by Adriano Almeida
With a first “serious attempt at completing a large multi-session composition,” Adriano Almeida’s image of the Horsehead and Orion Nebulae won our Deep-Sky category this year.
Almeida said the image began as a simple first-light test, unfiltered, for his new ZWO ASI2600MC cooled camera.
“I was gratified to see that the larger sensor, paired with the RedCat, was able to neatly fit both the Orion and Horsehead Nebulae into the frame.”
Over the following weeks, Almeida experimented with filters and used this target as a point of comparison. After a few sessions, he added more tri-band filtered data and blended in the stronger tones and star colours from that very first session.
“The result was a composition that revealed a lot of beautiful nebulosity in the Hydrogen-alpha wavelength, paired with some very stark blue Oxygen III elements.”
Camera: ZWO ASI2600MC Pro
Telescope: William Optics SpaceCat 51 (250mm Petzval)
Focal ratio: f/4.9
Total integration time: ~6 hours
Location: Mississauga, Ontario
Date: November 2020 to April 2021
Winner: Milky Way by Carl James
It wasn’t easy for Carl James to capture our galaxy almost reclining on the mountains of Waterton Lakes National Park.
The image is one frame in a panorama mosaic that he captured on a self-designed rig. He said he had been wanting to capture the panorama for over two years, but he wasn’t sure if it was even possible.
“My goal was to see if I could capture the Milky Way core over the mountain peaks at the south end of the lake, taken from the north end of the lake’s village beach,” he said. “In order to capture the Milky Way over the 180 degrees needed — a.k.a. the full length of the lake — this meant it had to be achieved early in the year before spring runoff from the mountains, whilst the lake was still low. “
He said with the Milky Way rising in the early morning through February and March, he decided April was the month to try.
Camera: Nikon Z6
Lens: 24mm S
Focal ratio: f/2.5
Sky: Single 120-second tracked exposure
Landscape: Single 150- second untracked exposure
Location: Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
Date: April 17, 2021
Winner: Mars post-opposition by Oleg Bouevitch
Shooting after the 2020 opposition, Oleg Bouevitch’s incredibly detailed images of Mars were named winner of the Lunar/Solar/Planetary category this year.
On October 5-6, 2020, the Red Planet passed closer to Earth than it will for another 15 years. The opposition about a week later was the best opposition of the 2020s, with Mars reaching a brightness of -2.62.
The images, left to right, were taken at 2 a.m., 2:54 a.m. and 3:52 a.m. UTC, and the orientation was north-up, Bouevitch said.
The capture was done with FireCapture, while stacking was done in Autostakkert; derotation in WinJUPOS; wavelets in PixInsight; and curves, levels and noise reduction in Photoshop/Topaz.
Camera: ZWO ASI290MM
Telescope: EdgeHD 14″ SCT
Focal ratio: f/22
Red filter: Seven two-minute videos at 400 fps
Green filter: Seven two-minute videos at 300 fps
Blue filter: Seven two-minute videos at 200 fps
Location: Nepean, Ontario
Date: October 31, 2020
Winner: Horsehead Nebula by Marcus Saldanha
This image came with a lot of firsts for Marcus Saldanha — first time using a Hydrogen-alpha filter, first time tracking with PHD2 and first time using new processing techniques.
“I’m stunned that my little achromatic refractor was able to pull this off,” he wrote.
The Horsehead Nebula, also known as IC 434, is a bright emission nebula. The “horsehead” itself is Barnard 33, a dark nebula in front of it. The Flame Nebula, or NGC 2024, is an emission nebula about 1,400 light-years from Earth, lit up by the star Alnitak. These nebulae, along with Barnard’s Loop and Messier 42, are part of the Orion Molecular Cloud, located about 1,500 light-years away in the constellation Orion.
Saldanha manually processed the image using an HOO palette (bicolour) in Photoshop.
Camera: Canon 60D
Telescope: Sky-Watcher StarTravel 120
Focal ratio: f/5
Total integration time: ~15 hours
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia
Date: January to February 2021
Winner: M51 by Ian Barredo
The masses have spoken: Ian Barredo’s image of Messier 51 won our Readers’ Choice award this year.
Also known as the Whirlpool Galaxy, Messier 51 is a grand-design spiral galaxy with a smaller yellow companion, NGC 5195. The two have been passing one another for hundreds of millions of years, and some astronomers believe the close encounter has tugged at the Whirlpool’s arms, triggering tidal forces and new star formation.
Barredo said he shot this image using separate filters for luminance, Hydrogen-alpha, red, green and blue.
Camera: ZWO 183 monochrome
Telescope: William Optics 103mm
Mount: Sky-Watcher AZEQ6
Focal ratio: f/5.5
Exposure time: 25 hours
Location: Regina, Saskatchewan
Date: April 18-24, 2021
Prize: Each runner up receives a package from The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and SkyNews